Breastfeeding risk to babies to be investigated

New study to determine number of breastfed babies with dehydration

Doctors are launching the first study to establish how many breastfed babies fall dangerously ill after failing to take in enough milk.

A rare, but potentially fatal condition, severe hypernataemic dehydration, may be on the rise as more women heed the ‘breast is best’ message.

Current Department of Health advice urges women to nurse their infant exclusively for the first six months. It notes the benefits of breastfeeding include protection for the baby from certain infections, and for the mother from some diseases in later life.

Information about the number of seriously dehydrated newborns readmitted to hospital will be gathered across the UK in the new study. Localised studies suggest some hospitals treat a baby a week for anything from mild to severe dehydration, but there is a lack of comprehensive data for the medical community to work from – and act upon.

The effects can be severe – levels of sodium in the baby’s blood rise dramatically, and if untreated, this can lead to seizure, gangrene, brain damage and in the worst cases, death. If picked up soon enough the effects are easy to reverse but it is not always easy to spot as babies continue to look pink and alert.

Dr Sam Oddie, a consultant in the neonatal unit at Bradford Royal Infirmary, who is leading the study, said: ‘Once we understand the scale of the problem we can work out what to do about it – how to spot it, and how to act on it. But as far as I’m concerned the answer isn’t more formula feeding, but increased support for breastfeeding from the outset in the form of counsellors. Women who are having difficulties should be monitored and helped – this is something society really needs to invest in.’


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