A Bradford doctor is leading the first-ever study to find out how many breastfed babies fall dangerously ill after failing to take in enough milk.

Dr Sam Oddie, a consultant neonatologist at Bradford Royal Infirmary, has a long-standing interest in the condition called hypernatraemic dehydration after coming across a severe case earlier in his career.

The condition causes levels of salt in the baby’s blood to rise dramatically and if left untreated can lead to seizures, brain damage or even death.

Since coming to work in Bradford four years ago he has not come across any severe cases but he wants to gather comprehensive data about just how many newborns are affected by the very rare – but potentially fatal – condition across the UK and Ireland.

The study will focus on the more severe cases, where the baby is readmitted to hospital, said Dr Oddie.

“Hypernatraemic dehydration leads to high blood salt levels,” said Dr Oddie. “It is associated with problems with breast-milk transfer and most commonly occurs in first-time mums, who may not realise their baby is ill.”

Starting on May 1, hospital consultants across the UK and Ireland will be asked by the British Paediatric Surveillance Unit to report the number of babies they have seen with severe hypernatraemic dehydration every four weeks for 13 months.

If a consultant reports a case they will then be asked to fill in a more detailed questionnaire about it.

Dr Oddie said he expected to see very low number of cases but it was important to find out exact data to understand what health professionals can do to better support women to breastfeed.

“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,” he said.

“Women who are having difficulties should be monitored and helped.

“This is something society really needs to invest in.”