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Natalie Escobar

Infant's Death Raises Question of Baby Friendly Hospital Risks

One multimillion dollar lawsuit raises the question of whether hospital breastfeeding initiatives are happening at the expense of safety.
PUBLISHED ON 08/11/2017

Monica Thompson experienced unimaginable tragedy—the accidental death of her newborn son—and now she’s filed an $8.6 million lawsuit against the Portland, Oregon, hospital where this took place, putting into question whether the hospital is at fault for promoting breastfeeding at the expense of other safety precautions.

In the lawsuit, Thompson claims a nurse brought her 4-day-old son to breastfeed unsupervised while she was “heavily medicated” on a combination of narcotics and sleep aids, according to People. An hour later, after Thompson woke up, she noticed her son was unresponsive.

“Jacob suffocated under his mother while she was under the influence of narcotic and sleep aids,” the complaint says. “His inability to breath [sic] caused desperation and anxiety. His breathing eventually stopped. His pulse was weak or absent.”

Jacob was transferred to another hospital’s NICU and then remained on life support for six days before parents Monica and Graham Thompson decided to terminate his life support, the lawsuit says. The incident happened in August 2012, but she’s only come to terms with the incident recently, the Thompson family’s lawyer told People.

“It has taken Monica and the family all this time to finally come to the conclusion that something went wrong, and they were not to blame,” lawyer Diego Conde says.

This isn’t the first time breastfeeding practices at hospitals have come into question. A 2016 study in JAMA Pediatrics concluded that a hospital's full compliance with pro-breastfeeding initiatives like the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative might be “potentially hazardous” or have “counterproductive outcomes.” According to the authors, if the hospital is too rigid with its policy to breastfeed baby, an exhausted or sedated mom like Thompson might be pressured into breastfeeding her baby under unsafe conditions. This can result in inadvertent co-sleeping or bad positioning that can have “serious consequences” for the baby.