Monique Hidalgo gave birth to her daughter Isabella in May while incarcerated in a New Mexico state prison.
When prison officials said she couldn’t breastfeed her newborn, the 33-year-old mom sued.
In response, a New Mexico judge ruled last week that, “all mothers, including those who are incarcerated have a fundamental right to breastfeed their babies.”
However, despite the successful outcome of her lawsuit, Hidalgo has actually lost her right to breastfeed while imprisoned.moppet65535/Flickr
Per the court order, Hidalgo could breastfeed unless she was caught using drugs. When she tested positive on Aug. 3 for buprenorphine, an opioid that “can help alleviate withdrawal symptoms and cravings,” Hidalgo lost her right to feed her baby.
According to HuffPost:
Amber Fayerberg, Hidalgo’s lawyer, said her client was set up to fail when she returned to the prison population after giving birth and was immediately forced off the doctor-recommended opioid maintenance treatment she used throughout her pregnancy.
In a statement to HuffPost, Fayerberg said:
It is extremely common for women to relapse postpartum if pregnancy methadone treatment is cut off, as it was in this case. If the Department’s lactation program is to be successful, it must permit mothers to continue to take those medications prescribed during pregnancy.
Hidalgo was discharged from the hospital two weeks after her daughter’s birth with orders to breastfeed the infant as much as possible in prison.
When she was initially allowed to nurse in prison, Hidalgo and Isabella were both endangered by the chains that imprisoned the mother. Holding and feeding her baby was a struggle without the full usage of her hands.
At one point, Hidalgo “tripped on her ankle chain and fell over while holding Isabella.” Due to this, the infant required X-rays during a quick stint in the intensive care unit (ICU).
Medical experts encourage mothers with opioid-use disorder to breastfeed their newborns, as “skin-on-skin contact can help babies recover from exposure to opioids in the womb.” But until Hidalgo’s recent lawsuit, many women weren’t even granted the right to breastfeed their infants while incarcerated.
A 2015 New York Times editorial reports that the rate of female prisoners increased and surpassed the rate of the overall prison population. This is a result of the “war on drugs,” where a majority of incarcerated women are convicted of “low-level drug or property crimes” rather than crimes of violence.
According to HuffPost, criminal justice reform advocates allege that the prison system is designed for men and that, as a result, women’s health care needs are not addressed. Due to this, imprisoned women are not receiving the prenatal care they need, such as access to OBGYN doctors.
Lawrence Leeman, the doctor at the University of Mexico Hospital, who cared for Hidalgo and Isabella, reported that the incarcerated mother was most likely suffering from withdrawal after being forced off her high dosage of methadone so abruptly.
While most imprisoned drug users are barred access to opioid maintenance treatments that help with their recovery, an exception is often made for pregnant women. Suddenly, quitting opioids can be dangerous for new mothers and their babies, and the risk of preterm labor and fetal death increase as a result.
Leeman said that if it were up to him, he wouldn’t have discharged the pair as early as he was forced to.
The infant was born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), an “increasingly common but treatable condition that can result from exposure to opioids in utero.” Leeman said:
“Most of the babies go through the same thing ― they are a little shaky, their muscles are tighter, and often they will have trouble feeding.”
Treatment for NAS lies in breastfeeding and “skin-on-skin contact.” According to Leeman, Hidalgo and Isabella “bonded quickly,” and with a few added drops of morphine, breastfeeding assisted in improving Isabella’s withdrawal symptoms.
Leeman wanted Hidalgo to remain in the hospital for as long as possible in order to assist Isabella’s treatment plan.
While Hidalgo waits for a trial date, her lawyer announced that they may petition the court so that the mother can resume breastfeeding. Fayerberg said:
“It’s important to remember, she’s not just an inmate. She’s a person. And a mother.”