Reading about the arrest of this woman, on charges that she was “drinking while breastfeeding” really got my hackles up.
Police responding to a domestic disturbance arrived at Stacey Anvarinia’s home to find the mother breast-feeding her 6-week-old baby in front of them. And she was drunk, they said. Officers arrested the woman, who later pleaded guilty to child neglect and faces up to five years in prison.
Let me be clear that I do not think being “drunk” while caring for a baby is a good idea, ever, whether you are breastfeeding or bottlefeeding, or you are the babysitter or the father or whomever. Tiny babies are rather fragile creatures, and drunk people are rather clumsy and lack good judgment. So if this woman was really “drunk” while caring for her newborn, perhaps there was cause for alarm on the part of the officers. She could have dropped the baby, for example. But arresting her, and pinning it on drinking whilst nursing has all kinds of problems.
When I came home from the hospital after giving birth to each of my four children, I was sent home with prescription, narcotic pain pills like hydrocodone and percocet to take during the recovery period. And I did take them, happily. After my c-section with baby #4, I took them for several weeks because I was still hurting. The pills not only helped with the pain, but gave me a bit of a buzz. I believe it would be fair to say that I was nursing my babies “while high.” Should I have been arrested?
Heather Armstrong over at Dooce blogged this week about how she’s taking some new meds to help with her postpartum anxiety and depression. She also took antidepressants all the way through pregnancy. Should she be arrested? After all, while there is very little evidence that drinking alcohol while nursing causes any harm, there are all kinds of studies indicating that SSRI use during pregnancy and breastfeeding can be problematic. But this is a decision for a woman and her doctor to make. A mother’s postpartum depression can be a whole lot more problematic for a baby’s well-being than judicious use of medications to treat it.
I know, I know…you are going to point out that I am talking about prescribed medications, while alcohol is not a prescription med. But pain medication and antidepressants are something women take by choice, not by clear-cut medical necessity (as in, if you do not take this, you will experience heart failure).
And if we can arrest a woman for drinking alcohol while nursing, something that is unlikely to actually cause harm to the baby, are we going to start arresting women who have a glass of wine or two during pregnancy? That would actually make more sense (not) because we know for a fact that alcohol crosses the placenta in the same concentration as it exists in the drinking mother’s bloodstream. This is a different delivery mechanism than breastmilk, where alcohol would appear in minute amounts, if at all, and would then pass through the baby’s digestive tract before ending up in his bloodstream.
I drank while nursing, and would do it again. I think that many women are so fearful that they will have to radically change their diets or lifestyles in order to successfully breastfeed a baby that they just decide that bottlefeeding would be easier. Stories like this one reinforce that fear.
Addendum: Just saw this post, which makes it clear that a big part of the reason this woman was arrested is that she offended the officers by actually – gasp! – continuing to nurse the baby in their presence.
Addendum #2: Best comment on this today came from my friend Julianne who said, “My toddler son’s toughest day so far in life was when he chose to give up my milk. He had to give up red wine, chocolate & coffee.” HA!
Did you read my essay this week about how Jon and Kate Gosselin first real TV stars of the mommyblog era?
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