Babies die because lactation consultants lie


It’s hard to predict when a tipping point will occur but once it happens, everything changes.

For example, peremptory airline behavior toward passengers — over booking flights, bumping passengers — has been going on for decades, but everything changed when a United Airlines dragged a passenger down the aisle, bloodying him along the way, in an effort to get back to business as usual. The issue rose to public consciousness in a way that it never had before, prompting wholesale review of airline procedures, not to mention a large payout to the injured passenger.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Lactation consultants didn’t intend to lie to Landon’s mother; they just told her the same lies they tell themselves.[/pullquote]

Similarly, peremptory treatment of mothers by lactation consultants — ignoring their concerns about starving babies, in particular — has been going on for decades, but everything changed when Jillian Johnson shared the story of her son Landon’s death from dehydration due to insufficient breastmilk (If I Had Given Him Just One Bottle, He Would Still Be Alive). The issue rose to public consciousness in a way that it never had before, prompting new attention and hopefully a wholesale review of relentless effort to promote breastfeeding.

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…

Landon died years ago and his story remained a private tragedy. Then the Fed Is Best Foundation was created by Christie Castillo-Hegyi, MD and Jody Seagrave-Daly, RN, IBCLC precisely to prevent such tragedies. Jillian felt that she could finally tell Landon’s story to medical professionals who understood, as opposed to lactation consultants who proverbially dragged her down the aisle, bloodying her along the way, in an effort to get back to business as usual.

Landon’s story has appeared in countless newspapers and blogs, in People Magazine and today it has reached television on the show The Doctors. Here is a deeply moving clip:

How could this have happened?

It happened because lactation consultants lie — first and foremost to themselves and each other, but most importantly to parents — insisting that breastfeeding is perfect and problems are rare. Regardless of the age, size and temperament of the baby, many lactation consultants claim that his mothers breasts ALWAYS make enough milk to fully nourish him and that ANY supplementation of breastmilk with formula destroys the breastfeeding relationship. Why? Because women were “designed” to breastfeed. But the truth is that breastfeeding, like any natural process, has a natural failure rate and complications are common.

It’s like insisting that nearsightedness is impossible because eyes are “designed” to see or claiming miscarriage is rare because women’s bodies are “designed” to produce babies. The truth is that 30% of Americans are nearsighted and the natural rate of miscarriage is 20%. Therefore, it should not be surprising that up to 15% of first time mothers (as Jillian was) won’t produce enough breastmilk to fully support a baby in the first few days.

This should not be news to anyone since across large swathes of the world, women offer pre-lacteal feeds in the first few days after birth, such as sugar water, teas and even honey, to their babies. Prelacteal feeding is practiced from Africa to Southeast Asia, to Central and South America, suggesting that a variety of peoples independently believed it to be necessary.

Not surprisingly, pre-lacteal feeds led to illness since they were often made with contaminated water. Lactation consultants looked at the phenomenon and drew the wrong conclusion. They decided that it was the process of supplementing in the first few days that was harmful, rather than the reality that it was the specific supplements that were harmful. It apparently never occurred to them to wonder why millions of women around the world and across the generations had come to the conclusion that colostrum was simply not enough.

Lactation consultants promulgated a variety of rules, embodied in the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, that are based on their belief, unsupported by scientific evidence, that every woman can make enough breastmilk and that offering anything other than the breast (formula, a pacifier) will destroy the breastfeeding relationship.

The scientific evidence actually shows the opposite: judicious formula supplementation actually increases the odds of extended breastfeeding and pacifiers not only don’t interfere with breastfeeding, they actually prevent SIDS.

Many lactation consultants lie to themselves and each other about the high rate of insufficient breastmilk and the high and rising rate of breastfeeding complications like dehydration, low blood sugar, permanent brain injury and even death. Their answer to any and all breastfeeding problems is “breastfeed harder.”

How can they ignore that harm that they are causing? They have conjured an all purpose excuse for breastfeeding difficulties, “lack of support.” Since they insist that breastfeeding is perfect, it must be mothers who are lazy or who aren’t being supported that are at fault.

It’s as if “vision consultants” suddenly started telling women that they couldn’t be nearsighted because their eyes were “designed” to see and therefore nearsightedness is rare. It’s as if they withheld glasses and contact lenses on the theory that if women just “looked harder” or got more “vision support,” all but an unfortunate few would have 20/20 vision.

No doubt the lactation consultants who told Landon’s mother he was doing fine while he was actually dying before their eyes believed what they were saying. That is what they were taught and that is what they continually tell each other. They didn’t intend to lie to Landon’s mother; they just told her the same lies they told themselves. Landon died as a result.

Worst of all, when presented with the evidence of Landon’s death, they are fabricating new lies. Some of the lies — such as the lie that Landon’s mother accidentally suffocated him — are extraordinarily ugly. The new lies speak to the desperation of lactational consultants and lactivists to continue believing their old lies that breastfeeding complications are rare.

Nothing will bring Landon back. Nothing will assuage his parents’ heartbreak. But we can hope that the story of his easily preventable death will serve as a tipping point so lactation consultants can’t go back to business as usual.