Rhianne Statom-Barnett was faced with a choice when she went to the doctor for an earache.

Should she take the antibiotic prescription the doctor prescribed or go without it because she was worried about what it could do to her 3-month-old son, George, since she was breastfeeding.

The Sun reports her decision had dire consequences.

Dr. Matthew Jones said:

“I did suggest antibiotics but Rhianne refused and explained she did not want this to affect her whilst she was breastfeeding.”

The mother did not take the suggested medication, fearing the antibiotic could harm her son through the transfer of her milk to him.

Statom-Barnett was not feeling better after skipping the medicine her mother, Beverly, who is a nurse, explained:

“She said she had a severe headache and her ear was hurting a lot. She said it was worse than labour pains. We looked at her ear and it had blood and fluid coming out of it.”

She was the one who walked in to find Statom-Barnett unconscious in her bed with her baby crying by her side two days after refusing to take the medication.

Beverly said:

“She had vomited and when I called out her name she didn’t respond we called an ambulance.”

Then she was told the devastating news that her daughter was gone when the doctor walked in the room:

“At hospital the senior doctor came out and told us that Rhianne was effectively brain dead. It was heartbreaking.”

Doctors found out that the 30-year-old mother had developed the rare ear infection, mastoiditis, which quickly led to meningitis, causing her death.


Jones said the woman did not show any signs of the infection at the time of her original exam when she refused to take the antibiotics he recommended:

“She had a four day history of ear pain and upon examination I saw her ear drum had burst. She had no fevers so there was no evidence of mastoiditis at the time.”

Jones added only four in 10,000 people suffer from mastoiditis, while pathologist, Dr. Lina Joseph, who carried out a post-mortem examination, said women are more vulnerable to infection after giving birth.

Assistant Coroner John Pollard did not put the blame on the doctors for Statom-Barnett’s death:

‘The evidence in this case shows that the doctors and neurological surgeons did everything they could, but unfortunately there was not a lot they could do. Rhianne had suffered with a severe ear infection, but sadly there was nothing that could have been done.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, some antibiotics are generally considered safe during breastfeeding, including:

  • Penicillins, including amoxicillin, ampicillin
  • Erythromycin
  • Cephalosporins, including cefaclor, cephalexin
  • Clindamycin

However, tetracyclines are believed to pose risks during pregnancy and are not recommended for use after the 15th week.

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