Despite recent reports that medications tend not to seep much into breast milk, prosecutors in South Carolina have successfully argued that breast is not best when the breastfeeding mother is taking heavy-duty prescribed narcotics. In a horrific case, a 39-year-old woman was recently convicted of killing her 6-week-old daughter with morphine delivered through her breast milk.
Stephanie Greene, a former nurse whose daughter Alexis died weeks after her birth in November 2010, was sentenced to 20 years in prison today.
The Associated Press reports that Greene suffered chronic pain for more than a decade after a car accident. When she became unexpectedly pregnant in 2010, she hid the pregnancy from her primary care physician and didn’t tell her gynecologist about the painkillers she was on.
An autopsy of the baby “found a level of morphine in the baby’s body that a pathologist testified could have been lethal for an adult,” the AP reported. Law enforcement officials concluded that the newborn must have ingested the morphine through her mother’s breast milk since there were no needle marks on the baby’s body.
Last August, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a report declaring that many breastfeeding women are “wrongly advised to stop taking necessary medications” and that “not all drugs are present in clinically significant amounts in human milk or pose a risk to the infant.”
But the government warns that morphine does pose a serious risk.
According to LactMed, an online database of drugs maintained by the National Institutes of Health, epidural morphine given to mothers after cesarean sections results in “trivial” amounts of the drug reaching their milk.
The same can’t be said for oral doses of morphine.
“Maternal use of oral narcotics during breastfeeding can cause infant drowsiness, central nervous system depression, and even death. Newborn infants seem to be particularly sensitive to the effects of even small dosages of narcotic analgesics,” the LactMed morphine section states.
Greene’s lawyers have argued that it was never proven that lethal doses of morphine passed through the breast milk.
Whether or not prosecutors were right about morphine-via-breast milk killing Greene’s child, I can’t imagine that any nursing mother using narcotic pain meds will take this news lightly. And if it means more breastfeeding moms seek medical advice about their painkiller prescriptions, that’s at least one positive development from an otherwise heartbreaking story.
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Photo by Spartanburg Detention Center via ABC News