My father emailed me earlier today with a story he'd heard about a woman who was arrested for breastfeeding her baby while drunk and now faces up to five years in prison, and instead of what may seem the obvious reply ("Poor baby!") I was all, "Wait WHAT? FIVE YEARS?" Apparently police discovered North Dakota mother Stacey Anvarinia breastfeeding her six-week-old while intoxicated and arrested her. Ok. It is no good to take care of your little baby while you're drunk, even if you've had no sleep and are stressed out, and even if you really want to party instead of change the 100th diaper of the day. It's just not a good idea and I think most reasonable people know that.
I think most reasonable people also know it's not a good idea to breastfeed your child after you've had a ton to drink. I'm no scientist, but I understand the basics. The alcohol enters your breast milk, much like it enters your bloodstream, and then burns off as time passes.
So, you know, Stacey made a bad decision.
Should she be threatened with five years in jail? And really, should she have been arrested at all? Is breastfeeding while intoxicated the same as hitting your child?
I don't know, and the problem is, nobody does. There aren't many studies out on the subject, I guess because scientists aren't into boozing up new nursing moms and watching what happens to their infants. Ethics and all.
Therefore, I don't know what damage this woman may have inflicted on her child, or may have continued to inflict if authorities hadn't stepped in. Yet I do worry about what this situation does to the image of mothers, especially breastfeeding mothers. Because it is so, so easy to lash out at this woman.
You know what, though? I'm a breastfeeding mom, and I drink too.
Ok, so I've never been rip-roaring drunk while cradling Nora to my breast. If anything, I was overly cautious to the point of annoying for many months about having a drink, constantly pulling J aside and asking if I was somehow ruining this life we'd created - being ridiculous, in short, because I followed all the rules. Despite the fact that I truly believe (having consulted several sources) that a glass of wine won't hurt your milk or your baby, I never nursed Nora after having a drink, unless it was a few hours after and I felt certain it has passed through my system. I'm nursing less now, so it's not as much of an issue. Plus, she sleeps from 7:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. most nights, so I don't really have to worry about it. If one night I decide to have a drink or two, I'm pretty sure I'm clean after her luxurious 11-hour respite.
This isn't the point, however. The point is that the whole drinking while breastfeeding thing is treated with a lack of humanity, in my opinion. A lack of reality, too. In "What to Expect the First Year," the authors advise that having a "small drink" once or twice a week is probably alright, but never two drinks in one day. Never.
Other experts advise not drinking at all while breastfeeding.
I know, I know, it's not that hard, right? Just don't drink! You've got this beautiful little life to take care of! OH COME ON. It's not that I want to go out and get bombed all the time, God knows I don't. I need to be in bed by like 10 o' clock because that is my bedtime as a parent. I mean, I partied. I had my day. Roll the film reel from Chapel Hill when I was 25! (Wait, there isn't a film reel, right?)
But yeah, I want to return to some human form of myself before I became whale-like and had this child. Every once in a while, I want to have a glass of wine with my husband. I want to share a beer with friends at a backyard barbecue.
It's fun to feel part of the breastfeeding club - I went to the support group, we ate cookies, talked nursing bras and had a nice time.
I also want to be part of the other club. The Rest of the World Club. The club where I don't feel intense guilt for every decision I make as a mother, not only because people are getting arrested for breastfeeding while drunk, but because so many people are going to hate her. And maybe hate me.
People like this Babycenter commenter, who commented on their topic page about alcohol and breastfeeding, and sounds like she needs a drink herself:
"If drinking alcohol is such a f-ing necessity for you to function, then you need to put your baby on formula so they are not being continually poisoned."
Fun! There are so many comments like this one out there. I've seen them.
There just aren't many moderates in this debate - and I get it - I get it that medical experts can't really tell nursing moms to drink a little if they want, because some women might take that to extremes. So I think we, the mothers, need to be the moderates. I'm glad the North Dakota case has brought this issue to the table. Not that it's a matter of national urgency, but it's nice to see the issue being discussed (I really like this blog post by Katie Allison Granju.)
Those are my meandering thoughts. For some reason this story got my defenses up and I felt the need to jump in. It's hard to be a mother with all the differing lines of thought out there, and sometimes we need to be a little easier on ourselves.
I remember right after I had Nora, I was sitting in this breastfeeding information class at the hospital led by a lactation consultant. I was sore and beaten from the C-section, and the other mothers looked pretty tired, too.
Wouldn't you guess, we all wanted to know what the rules on drinking and breastfeeding were. "It's kind of like drinking and driving," the lactation consultant told us. "If you feel intoxicated, don't nurse the baby."
Just a matter of common sense, she said.
I could read a million expert opinions and never find any advice better than that.
And with that, we mothers relaxed and moved on to much more important matters.