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Jail Denies Mom’s Request to Pump Breast Milk (and I Don’t Blame Them)

medelaQuick! Riddle me this. You’re tossed in the slammer and you’ve got a four-week old child at home. Do you expect to be allowed to pump milk for your baby?

Better yet, you have just been told you’re going to jail in a few weeks and you have a baby you’re breastfeeding. What’s your next move?

27-year-old Wisconsin mom, Britney Weber, was taken to jail February 19th on contempt of court charges related to a traffic case. Her bond was set at $1,066 but Britney couldn’t pay so she had to spend a week in jail.

While there she asked if she could pump milk to feed her 4-week old daughter, Elsy.

Jail officials denied the request because, as Green Bay Press Gazette reports, “the jail allows inmates to express milk in cases where a physician or nurse considers it necessary. But they say they can’t do so without a medical reason.”

“Everybody stresses the importance of breast-feeding,” Weber tells the Gazette. “You’d think that for people who were there for a short time, they would allow it.”

But Sheriff’s Capt. Larry Malcomson says they don’t have enough refrigerator space or the facilities to allow all jailed moms to pump.

“We try to be very accommodating,” said Malcomson’s boss, Sheriff John Gossage. “But the fact is that when you’re incarcerated, you lose a lot of privileges that you otherwise had when you’re not in jail.”

Weber now says that after going a week without pumping she can no longer breast feed. She also says her daughter spits up all the time and has digestive issues.

Weber’s sister, Lizabeth, wants the jail to change its rules about nursing mothers. “Something needs to be done about this,” said Lizabeth Weber. “It’s known all over the place that it’s important for the baby — and for the mother — to be able to breast-feed.”

Rebecca Rose over on Jezebel is all worked up over the fact that breastfeeding is being considered a “privilege” and not a right:

“Is that what breastfeeding is now? A privilege? We’re not even talking about Weber physically breastfeeding the baby—we’re talking about a mother pumping milk to give to someone else to feed her baby. Actually, we’re talking about a mother providing food and nutrition to her baby, period. I mean, that’s great, Sheiff [sic] Malcomson—prisoners should lose privileges when they’re in jail. But a newborn baby shouldn’t lose the ‘privilege’ (I cannot believe this is how it’s being referred to) of getting breast milk as nourishment.”

Here’s something Rose didn’t mention in her article: According to the Gazette, Weber had given birth three weeks before she was booked into jail. Meaning, she knew that she could go to jail within a week of her daughter being born. Weber had plenty of time to prepare for her stint behind bars which you would think would include checking with officials to see if she’d be allowed to pump milk or make special arrangements.

Pam Klingert, a registered nurse and lactation consultant with Green Bay-based Bellin Health says, “This sounds like it was a missed opportunity to do what’s best for a mother and her baby. Breast milk is the perfect food.”

You know what it sounds like to me? A missed opportunity for Britney Weber to do what was best for her baby. She knew she was going to jail in advance and didn’t even call the jail to ask about their policy. She had weeks to figure out an alternative but did not.

But whether or not Weber made previous arrangements is a side note. The point is that, yes, that’s exactly what happens when you go to jail: you lose your freedom and that just might include nursing your newborn. I’m not trying to be a jerk, but you can’t go to jail and expect to keep living your life in the same fashion as when you’re at home. It’s not the jail’s job to take care of your child. And yes, breast milk may be the “perfect food” but there are plenty of perfectly healthy alternatives. Does it suck that Weber wasn’t able to pump milk for her baby? Yes. Would it be cool for the jail to facilitate that somehow? Absolutely. But it’s also equally understandable for jail officials to deny the request.

Switching over to formula isn’t the end of the world for a baby, I’m about to embark on that journey with my own newborn in a couple weeks. Point is, if you wanna breastfeed your baby don’t get yourself tossed in jail. And if you do find yourself headed to jail, at least find out what the policy is and attempt to make some arrangements before they slide the doors closed. The last people I’d expect to be sensitive to my needs as a new mom would be my jailers.

What do you think? Should all jails initiate a policy enabling nursing moms to pump for their children?

Image: medelabreastfeedingus.com

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