She thought giving formula meant she was a failure as a mother.
For months she tried to breastfeed her newborn baby boy.
For months she struggled, desperately trying not to be a “bad mother”.
For months she watched her baby grow weaker and weaker, to the point of malnourishment, but her strict belief that formula meant she was a failure stopped her doing anything to help him.
Until he nearly died.
Yesterday the mother faced court and broke down while she was sentenced to 18-months in jail.
The woman, who cannot be named, was under the impenetrable belief that baby formula is “unhealthy” and vehemently held dear the “breast is best” message.
The court heard it was these beliefs that contributed to the severe malnourishment of her five-month-old baby.
The Courier Mail reports that the mother pleaded guilty along with her husband to one charge of child cruelty in the Brisbane District Court yesterday.
The court heard that the baby weighed 3.72kg, when he should have been around 6kg.A doctor who attended the family’s home on an unrelated matter reported the baby’s condition to the Department of Child Services.
“There they saw (the mother) and her child... who they noted was noticeably underweight, yellow in colour and had (no) head control,” the prosecutor told the court.
The baby boy was so gaunt and emaciated his rib cage and shoulder bones were visible through the skin, the court heard. His growth was also stunted and he was suffering from muscle and tissue wastage.
The court was told the mother was suffering from post-natal depression after having her fourth child, and had a history of depressive disorders. She had an unwavering belief that “baby formula was unhealthy” and was “fearful of mainstream medical care."
While he slipped away, and against all advice, she continued breastfeeding the baby no one could waver her belief in what she thought was the right thing to do for her dying boy.The court heard the mother-of-four had previously breastfed all of her children and feared chemicals in formula would cause harm to her newborn son.
District Court Judge David Kent QC said he accepted her actions were not intended to harm the child but said he “could have died, on the medical evidence”.
"This child could have died,” the judge said.
"Baby formula is not harmful, it is required for babies that are not thriving on breastfeeding."
In recent years there has been some backlash against the “breast is best” message with fears that the push to breastfeed above all else could be creating unnecessary pressure on women struggling to do so.
While there is no doubt breastfeeding is good for babies and can help to build a child's immune system, there also no evidence that formula is a bad choice.
In fact, Dr Sophie von Stumm, from Goldsmiths, University of London who conducted a study on whether there is a link between IQ and breastfeeding found that “mothers should be aware that they are not harming their child if they choose not to, or cannot, breastfeed.”But sadly the messages get skewed and extreme beliefs about health can be difficult to sway.
Luckily doctors intervened just in time for the five-month-old Queensland baby and after being in foster care for nine months, he has since been returned to his family and his health has had no ill effects.
Yesterday his mother was sentenced to 18 months in jail but was released immediately on parole.
The baby’s 50-year-old father was also sentenced to 12 months jail for doing nothing to ensure his son was the correct weight.
The man told the court he worked six days a week as a builder to support his family financially and rarely saw his son because he was asleep when he got home.
"Perhaps my work does drive me away from home but that's what happens when you have to support everybody," he said.
The father conceded he could have done more.
“Knowing what I know now, I would have definitely done something”.