A brave mum has opened up about her son’s tragic death on would have been his fifth birthday.
Jillian Johnson thought she was doing everything right. She had read all the books and taken all the courses to prepare for the birth of her first child.
She was encouraged to exclusively breastfeed, but just three days into her son Landon's short life, paramedics were called to her California home and her precious baby boy was put on life support.
Jillian tells Be that she's telling her heartbreaking story to help other new parents, and in a moving blog post shared by the Fed is Best Foundation, she explains that she and her husband Jarrod had been ingrained with the motto “breast is best” and chose a “baby friendly” hospital – that is, one that encourages breastfeeding - to deliver their baby boy.
Landon James was born via caesarean section on February 25, 2012, and went straight to breastfeeding, with Jillian told he had “a great latch and was doing fine”.
One lactation consultant noted however, that Jillian may have trouble producing milk as she has been diagnosed with POCS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and Landon was her first child.
The other issue is that he was always crying. Newborn babies tend to feed and sleep, but Landon was constantly screaming - screaming and nursing.
“Landon cried. And cried. All the time,” Jilian writes, “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 mum, 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.”
During his first 24 hours of life, Landon had spent nine hours nursing but had lost close to five per cent of his body weight. By the time another 26 hours had passed, that number had increased to almost 10 per cent.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association says the general guidelines for newborns’ weight loss is that, “a baby loses 5-10 per cent of birth weight in the first week and regains this by 2-3 weeks.” However they stress that this is advice is general.
As his weight loss was within a “normal” range, Jillian and Landon were discharged from hospital.
“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,” she writes.
Jillian found Landon unresponsive, pulseless and blue after he fell asleep following a feed.
He was rushed to hospital and immediately taken to the neonatal intensive care unit where a devastated Jillian was told, “sure breast is best, but follow with the bottle. This way you know your baby has eaten enough.”
“If only I could go back in time,” she writes.
An MRI showed that Landon had suffered a brain injury caused by lack of oxygen due to dehydration, and his life support was turned off on March 15.
“I still have many, many days of guilt and questions – what if I would’ve just given him a bottle? And anger because how would I have known.”
Five years on from Landon's tragic death, Jillian and Jarrod have become parents to two gorgeous girls and celebrate their son's birthday every year.
Jillian, who lives by the motto "be so busy loving your life you have no time for hate, regret or fear", tells Be, "we have two beautiful girls, Stella who will be four in March, and Aliona who is 18 months.
"We talk about Landon all the time. We have pictures of him up throughout the house. Our girls know who he is and we celebrate his birthday and acknowledge him on holidays."
She is sharing her heartache in the hope that other new parents will find the information the need when breastfeeding.
"I realised in my grieving that there could be so many more parents that needed to hear it or talk about it but were never given the opportunity," she says.
"I had the opportunity to get the dialogue started and it needed to be done. I only wish I did it sooner. I'm so grateful knowing there's a foundation dedicated to educating parents on the importance of feeding your newborn - whether supplementing or breastfeeding. I'm pro-feeding. Plain and simple," she adds, referring to the Fed is Best Foundation.
Better Health Victoria has more information on bottle and breastfeeding newborns, and you can call the Australian Breastfeeding Association’s mum’s helpline on 1800 686 268 seven days a week.
Pregnancy, Birth and Baby recommends speaking to your doctor if your baby is not gaining weight and is nor settling after nursing when cluster feeding.