You need to relax more, put the baby to breast more, eat more, drink more… more, more, more. Whenever I asked a medical professional or lactation consultant why I wasn’t producing enough milk to feed my babies, the answer was always the same: It must be something I was doing wrong.
So when I read the blog post Jillian Johnson wrote on Fed is Best about accidentally starving her son, I found myself right back in that emotional time, when all I could feel was failure and pressure to feed my babies with a milk supply that was medically not available.
Johnson starts this heartbreaking post with thoughts of a missed birthday: “Landon would be five today if he were still alive. It’s a very hard birthday — five. It’s a milestone birthday.”
Landon went into cardiac arrest from dehydration just 12 hours after being discharged from the hospital. Johnson wasn’t producing enough milk to nourish her son and within two days, he lost nearly 10 percent of his birth weight.
After finding him pulseless and blue, Jillian and husband Jarrod called 911. Landon would be put on life support after being diagnosed with hypernatremic dehydration and cardiac arrest from hypovolemic shock, a condition in which rapid fluid loss results in multiple organ failure. He was 15 days old when he died.
Johnson never imagined that pressure to exclusively breastfeed — every new mom has heard the mantra “breast is best” — could have fatal consequences. “I share his story in hopes that no other family ever experiences the loss that we have,” she writes in the post.
And share she did. Johnson writes in the blog post about her experience after giving birth: “Landon was on my breast – ALL OF THE TIME. The lactation consultants would come in and see that ‘he had a great latch and was doing fine’ but there was one who mentioned I may have a problem producing milk. The reason she gave was because I was diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and it was just harder for women with hormone imbalances to produce milk. She recommended some herbs for me to take when I got out of the hospital.”
THIS! This was me! That’s all I could think about when reading Johnson’s words, except that I would not get my medical diagnosis until much later. For months, it felt like no one understood what I was going through and I found myself feeling that whatever isn’t working must be my fault. I would search the internet in a desperate attempt to find an answer, and instead, all I found was the same message staring back at me every single time: breast is best.
It wasn’t until a mammogram at age 40 that I finally found out about a condition called insufficient growth tissue. All those years I blamed myself, when in reality, my body just couldn’t produce enough milk.
Things might have been different for me nine years ago if I had read a story like Johnson’s. That is why her message is one that all parents need to hear. “I just want people to educate themselves so they don’t make the same mistake I did,” she said in an article for People. “I couldn’t sit by any more and have another mom feel what I feel every day. I don’t want any parent to have this hole in their heart. Nothing can fill it.”