Thursday, January 26, 2012

Or just feed him.

Thursday afternoons I volunteer at Angel Care. I met with a social worker today to give her a pack-n-play for one of her clients. She had just met the little boy (20 months) and his mother and wanted needed to tell me about him.

She wasn't sure about the timeline of events, but this little boy was doing well and developing typically until his mom stopped breastfeeding him. I would guess this was around one year, but she wasn't sure. At any rate, this mom, one of the rural poor, had done what she could to give her little one a good start. She co-slept and breastfed. When she switched to formula, all hell broke loose.

The little boy had allergic reactions to one formula after another, vomiting everything he tried to eat. His weight plummeted. At this point, he refuses to even attempt to eat. (Can you blame him? Eating equals pain in his world.) And along with his "failure to thrive" diagnosis came social workers.

Now he is being put in a pack-n-play to sleep. Not that there's anything wrong with that; Peter slept in one his whole first year. This little guy is still in his parents' room. What makes me sad is the implication that bed-sharing is unhealthy and put him at risk.

His mother is convinced he could heal and gain weight if she could give him breast-milk again. A logical assumption. Unfortunately, Medicaid won't pay for her to enroll in a program. And I imagine the social workers would be uncomfortable with a direct donation from people in the community.

Who are the victims here? The social workers, doing their best with limited information (the woman told me she's never had a pediatric case before), limited resources, and long hours. The mother, feeling guilty because she's being told that bed-sharing was a bad practice and because she is powerless to give her son what she knows he needs. The little boy, for obvious reasons.

And us. Tax payers. Medicaid will not provide what might change this boy's life. They have provided a g-tube for feeding, but will not provide breast-milk. What happens to kids with prolonged failure to thrive? It varies, but long-term effects can include emotional disturbances and lower IQ. These kids are more likely to end up needing special education services in school. So instead of footing the bill for a one year old to eat, Medicaid provides a special g-tube while increasing the odds that the state will spend significantly more money on this child during his journey through public education.

Why can't we just feed him?

Note: This isn't meant to be an anti-Medicaid or anti-public health care post. If this family did not have Medicaid, the little boy might be dead by now. I am just frustrated with the state of "the system."


  1. Wow, that breaks my heart. I agree just feed him! Help this poor mother and her hurting baby in what would really be the most effective (and cheapest) way possible. Sending up tons of prayers for them both. I wonder if someone couldn't meet with the mom as just another mom and give her tips to start her milk back up? And let her know co-sleeping isn't a horrible thing, and encourage her?

    1. I don't know. I'm not familiar with the social work agency that has her case and she lives about an hour drive from me... I have been thinking about calling the social worker back to offer help, but I don't know if she'd be allowed to accept it. :-/

  2. Not sure what a g-tube is. Try goat's milk is my suggestion. In Texas we have young mother's who donate their breast milk to babies who are unable or unsuccessful to breast feed. This program is with the hospital Texas Health Resources. Perhaps there is such a program in your area. mb

    1. G-tube delivers food directly to the stomach, there is a port in the boy's abdomen. Certainly not a pleasant procedure. I hadn't considered goat milk, but it's worth a try. My impression from the social worker was that there are similar breast milk donation programs around here, but they require recipients to pay. :-(