A woman in Pennsylvania is being charged with criminal homicide after her 11-week-old baby died following exposure to drugs in breast milk. The mother, Samantha Jones, told police that she nursed the baby around 3 a.m. on April 2, after which she went to sleep for a few hours. When she checked on the baby at around 7:30, he was pale and bloody mucus was coming out of his nose. She tried performing CPR, but the child was taken to the hospital and pronounced dead less than an hour later. According to the County Coroner’s Office, the autopsy revealed traces of methadone, amphetamine, and methamphetamine in the infant’s blood.
Jones said that she had been prescribed methadone after discovering she was pregnant, in order to help her manage her addiction to opioid painkillers, the district attorney in the case said that Jones could face a murder charge that carries a mandatory life sentence.
There have been a few other cases of mothers being charged for infant deaths related to drugs and breastfeeding. In 2006, a woman in California was charged with involuntary manslaughter after nursing her baby while on methamphetamine. In 2012, another California woman was sentenced to six years in prison for voluntary manslaughter, also because of methamphetamine in breast milk. In 2014, a woman in Washington was charged with endangerment with a controlled substance after breastfeeding her two-year-old daughter while using methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana.
Jones refused to answer questions on whether she was using other drugs in addition to methadone. She did say that she had switched to formula a few days before the baby’s death, out of concerns that the infant wasn’t getting enough milk, but that night she had decided to nurse him because she was too tired to make a bottle.
Both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine state in their guidelines that methadone is a safe and even encouraged form of medical-assisted treatment for pregnant and nursing women. The amount that babies take in is often so small as to be undetectable.
One study done on breastfeeding mothers using methamphetamine suggests waiting 48 hours after the last ingestion before nursing. While drug use is obviously not recommended while pregnant or breastfeeding, if a woman is unable to quit or is taking a medication for a legitimate reason (for example, methamphetamine can be used to treat ADHD and obesity), this waiting period can reduce the risk of harm.
According to medical professionals, these cases are controversial. There is usually no definitive proof that the drug was the primary cause of death, and there haven’t been enough studies done to determine the actual harm from breastfeeding while drugs are present in the milk.
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