Drinking while breastfeeding

Yeah, I drink while breastfeeding, writes Katie Allison Granju on Home/Work. So arrest me.

A Grand Forks, North Dakota mother, Stacey Anvarinia, called the police to say her boyfriend had hit her. When they arrived, they found her breastfeeding her six-week-old baby, decided without testing her that she was drunk and arrested her.  (Despite her bruised face, her boyfriend was not arrested.)  Anvarinia later plead guilty to child neglect and faces up to five years in prison.

A drunken mother might endanger her child, writes Granju. But breastfeeding has nothing to do with it.

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.

Nursing mothers often take painkillers or antidepressants, Granju writes.

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?

In my day, women were told that a glass or two of wine or beer would relax mother and baby, making breastfeeding easier.  In the days of wet nurses, the fee often included beer, ale, porter or malt liquor to keep the nurse mellow and the milk flowing.

Nowadays, pregnant mothers are warned not to drink at all during pregnancy, lest their babies develop Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which is very serious. But once the baby is born, even heavy drinking is linked only to “drowsiness, deep sleep, weakness and abnormal weight gain in an infant.” Light drinking is considered OK.

Dr. Lori Feldman-Winter, who helps oversee breast-feeding policy for the American Academy of Pediatrics, said the group considers limited alcohol consumption compatible with breast-feeding.

Imagine the furor if a father was arrested for smoking in near a baby, writes Amy Tuteur on Skeptical OB.

We like to pretend that we would never expose our infants to risk, but simply putting them into a car to drive to the store represents a risk far larger than the risk posed by breastfeeding while drunk (which is merely theoretical) or the risk of smoking in the presence of an infant (which is an all too real risk of illness and death).

This story suggests the police were offended because Anvarinia continued to nurse the baby while they were in her living room.  I’m guessing these officers had no experience with nursing a hungry baby.

A heavy-drinking mother with an abusive boyfriend is not likely to be a contender for Mother of the Year. But the case sets a scary precedent.