A mothers breast milk could’ve killed her own baby after rare condition meant baby girls stomach could’ve exploded
A breastfeeding mum could’ve killed her own baby girl twice after she was born with rare condition that meant her stomach could have exploded when she ingested milk.
Claire Flannery, 36, from Wetherby, Yorkshire, was unaware that breastfeeding her new born baby, Florence, could have killed her until her new daughter turned blue when she was just a few hours old.
After giving birth at home, the mum-of-two was breastfeeding Florence for the first time when the tot suddenly stopped breathing, her skin was a deathly blue colour and she had gone limp.
Quick-thinking midwives, who were still at Claire’s home, sprang into action, using a suction device to remove what they believed to be fluid in her lungs and applied an oxygen mask to her tiny face.
Fragile Florence was rushed to hospital and monitored overnight, but after Claire breastfed her for a second time she noticed the same horrifying reaction.
Doctors discovered she had Tracheoesophageal Fistula and Oesophageal Atresia (TOF/OA) – a passage that forms between the food and wind pipe.
This caused the breastmilk to travel into her lungs, which suffocated her and it was so severe, even breathing was inflating her stomach to such a point that it could have exploded at any moment.
Complex surgery was performed to fix her airways as well as connecting her stomach to her oesophagus – but finally five-month-old Florence has made a full recovery.
Claire, who works in sales, said: “It was horrifying when I found out that breastfeeding my baby could have suffocated her.
“It is such a natural thing for a new mum to do and a way you really bond with your child, but little did I know it could have killed my little girl.
“It all started minutes after I breastfed her for the first time when she suddenly started choking, foamed at the mouth, then went grey and floppy.
“It was horrific, I didn’t know what to do, it was her first big feed and it looked like she was dying, I was frozen with fear.
“She was a blue-grey colour for about five minutes, but it seemed like a lifetime, fortunately the midwives were saving her life by rubbing her back and using a pipe to suck out the fluid of her lungs.
“I never expected that to happen to our new born daughter and I was utterly powerless to help or do anything.
“After being rushed to hospital doctors couldn’t figure out what had happened to her so kept her under observation but the next day she seemed to be getting better.
“Then when I fed her for a second time, she had another episode, it was terrifying because I didn’t realise giving her a feed was putting my baby in harm’s way.
“After extracting the milk from her lungs for a second time they discovered the fluid was all alkaline rather than acidic, which is a tell-tale sign of TOF/OA.
“This meant Florence’s stomach was connected to her windpipe and her food pipe ended in a dead end – an operation later removed the faulty connection and enabled Florence to eat normally.
“They had to sew her food pipe and stomach back together so that food wouldn’t go into her lungs.
“Until they corrected that every time I fed her she could have choked to death and every breath she took would fill her stomach with air, which could have exploded.”
Claire and her partner, Keith, 33, had no idea their baby would be born with TOF/OA until she nearly died after her first feed.
They were transferred from Harrogate Hospital to the neonatal intensive unit in Leeds General Infirmary, where they could identify the condition and delicately stitch her windpipe to the lungs and food pipe to her stomach.
Claire said: “It was such a complex and serious operation that our surgeon decided to sleep before performing surgery as he knew how serious it was.
“After a five hour operation she was out of surgery and while she was covered in wires and devices I knew she was finally safe.”
At 13 days old she was released from hospital and now having fully recovered can breastfeed without the risk of choking.
The family are starting to wean Florence, now five months, onto solid foods and want to raise awareness of TOF/OA to hope more families will recognise the symptoms.
Diane Stephens, Manager of Tracheoesophageal Fistula Support (TOFS), said: “Imagine being unable to swallow anything, now imagine your child being unable to swallow – it’s a scary thought but also a reality for parents of one in every 3,500 babies born in the UK.
“Tracheo-Oesophageal Fistula (TOF) and Oesophageal Atresia (OA) are rare congenital conditions of the oesophagus (food pipe) and/or trachea (airway)
“Babies born with TOF/OA need to have intensive neo-natal care prior to corrective surgery, normally within days of birth, nowadays this is fixable with surgery and specialised treatment at Children’s hospitals all over the country.
“I’m delighted to hear that Florence has been doing well since her surgery, we know that little TOFs are tough – the very best wishes to Florence and her family.
To find out more information about TOF/OA or the charity visit www.tofs.org.uk.
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