Breast might not always be best by Claire

Did anyone else see the recent news articles about some newborn breastfed babies falling ill due to dehydration? The condition, hypernatraemic dehydration, occurs when babies fail to suckle properly or mothers cannot tell if they are full.

[advert:mpu]It causes too much salt to accumulate in the infant's body and, in the worst cases, can lead to seizures, gangrene, brain damage and even death. Although the condition is rare, experts fear the number of cases are rising as more women heed the 'breast is best' message.

Luckily for me and my newborn Freddy, this rather worrying article co-incided with a 4 week weight check which showed that he had put on only 10g since his birth and had dropped from the 50th to the 2nd centile. As he had regained his birth weight loss some 10 days before, I was understandably upset at the news that my baby was not thriving and that my breast milk was apparently failing to do the job. The Health Visitor (also rather worryingly!) didn’t seem to be that concerned and stated only that she would weigh him again in a weeks time.

However, within a day or two, Freddy was tinged yellow, crying almost constantly, skinny and seemed constantly hungry. As luck would have it, I heard the breaking news on the radio that this well documented condition was to be researched by doctors due to the rise in babies being admitted with the condition on a weekly basis. I was particularly interested in the news that the babies most at risk were those whose mothers were, like me, ‘highly motivated to breastfeed’. The belief that breast is best, appears to be a deterent to pro-breastfeeding mothers to swap to formula, even when in cases such as Freddy, the babies do not do well with breast feeding.

It states in the article that although this condition has been historically well documented, health care professionals are reluctant to raise the issue with parents. Dr Sam Richard, consultant neonatologist at Sunderland Royal Hospital, claimed the issue had been swept under the carpet.

"People are very cagey about saying anything that might give breastfeeding a bad name", he said.
"There has become something of a religious affiliation to breastfeeding and perhaps a desire not to rock the boat for something which is rare."

This message certainly rubbed off on me as in my case, the decision to introduce bottle feeds in itself was traumatic as I battled with the idea that I was somehow failing my baby as formula feeding is inferior to breast feeding. I felt terribly guilty that I couldn’t provide what is recommended as best for babies.

As it turns out, Freddy is doing much better. Once I had given him a formula bottle, he was instantly content and within a day or two his face had filled out and nappies were much fuller. When he was weighed a week later, he had put on 8oz and he is now doing well.

It seems also that it is not the quality or quantity of milk that is the problem but poor sucking technique on the part of infants and a lack of intervention on the part of midwives and Health Visitors that has been suggested is the cause, partly because of the shortage of staff on hand to give new mothers advice. In my case, I’ve started to express breastmilk so that we can see how much milk Freddy is getting. He still takes from the breast first thing in the morning when my breasts are fullest and during the night because it’s convenient. I also supplement with one or two bottles and we feel that we have got the balance right.

As always, it seems that it’s very much the case that mothers (and fathers!) know what is best for their off-spring. A lot to be said for parents’ intuition!

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