World Health Organization declares babies dying from breastfeeding complications are “not a priority”


I’m not often surprised these days, but I was surprised about this.

Christie del Castillo-Hegyi, MD and Jody Segrave-Daly RN, IBCLC of the Fed Is Best Foundation recently met with breastfeeding experts at the World Health Organization about the issue of babies starving, suffering brain injuries and dying due to insufficient breastmilk. They were told that it is “not a priority.”

Please join me in imploring them to reconsider by signing the petition, World Health Organization, please make preventing breastfeeding deaths a priority!

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On Sept. 22, 2017, senior members of the Fed is Best Foundation, and guests including a neonatologist and a pediatric endocrinologist, Dr. Paul Thornton, M.D, lead author of the Pediatric Endocrine Society’s newborn hypoglycemia guidelines, met via teleconference with top officials of the WHO Breastfeeding Program: Dr. Laurence Grummer-Strawn, Ph.D., Dr. Nigel Rollins, M.D. and Dr. Wilson Were, M.D. to express their concerns about the complications from the BFHI [Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative], and to ask what, if any, monitoring, research, or public outreach the WHO has planned regarding the risks of accidental starvation.

WHO officials reported that they have not specifically studied the complications from exclusive breastfeeding and have no studies commissioned to monitor complications of the BFHI. The WHO convened a group of global infant nutrition experts last year to review and revise their guidelines, but no one on the panel raised the issue of complications as a priority for discussion.

As Kavin Senapathy reported in Forbes:

When asked whether WHO plans to inform mothers of the risks of brain injury from insufficient breast milk, and that temporary supplementation can prevent complications, Dr. Rollins responded that this recommendation was not identified as a “top priority.”

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not surprised that babies harmed by breastfeeding complications are not a priority for the WHO and the BFHI; they’ve made that very clear by their actions. I’m only surprised that they are willing to state it outright.

Sadly, breastfeeding advocates have become just like the Nestle Corporation that they so deplored. They’ve privileged the product over the outcome. In the case of Nestle, they aggressively promoted baby formula in Africa despite the fact that making formula with contaminated water harms babies. It was more important to them to promote their product than whether babies lived or died. In the case of the WHO and the BFHI, they aggressively promote breastfeeding despite the fact that up to 15% of mothers may have difficulty producing suffient breastmilk. It is more important to them to promote their product than whether babies live or die.

In response to this news, Jillian Johnson, a mother and advocate whose newborn son Landon died five years ago from complications of starvation at a BFHI hospital states, “I am appalled by the lack of concern shown by the WHO regarding such an important issue. I shared the pain of losing my son by a senseless practice and they aren’t interested in preventing it from happening to other families.”

You may remember the tragedy of Landon Johnson that his mother [pictured above] shared with the Fed Is Best Foundation, If I Had Given Him Just One Bottle, He Would Still Be Alive:

Landon cried. And cried. All the time. He cried unless he was on the breast and I began to nurse him continuously. The nurses would come in and swaddle him in warm blankets to help get him to sleep. And when I asked them why he was always on my breast, I was told it was because he was “cluster feeding.” I recalled learning all about that in the classes I had taken, and being a first time mom, I trusted my doctors and nurses to help me through this – even more so since I was pretty heavily medicated from my emergency c-section and this was my first baby…

So we took him home … not knowing that after less than 12 hours home with us, he would have gone into cardiac arrest caused by dehydration…

I am also appalled by the lack of concern shown by the WHO and the BFHI for babies harmed by breastfeeding complications. If you feel the same way, please sign the petition imploring the them to revise their guidelines to alert parents an providers to the signs of insufficient breastmilk and and how to judiciously supplement with formula to prevent both brain injuries — from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), dehydration and severe jaundice — and deaths.

Nothing will bring back babies who have already died or reverse brain injuries that have already occured. Nothing will assuage their parents’ heartbreak. But we can hope that publicizing the signs and symptoms of insufficient breastmilk as well as the treatments will prevent similar tragedies. Both the WHO and BFHI should do everything in their power to prevent future breastfeeding injuries and deaths.

Sign the petition here!