Monique Hidalgo, who has opioid-use disorder, gave birth to her daughter while incarcerated in a New Mexico state prison. Last week a state judge ruled that Hidalgo, and all incarcerated women in New Mexico, have the right to breastfeed under the state Constitution.
But a new twist means that, once again, Hidalgo is not permitted to breastfeed three-month-old Isabella. After testing positive for buprenorphine, an opioid medication meant to alleviate withdrawal symptoms, her right to breastfeed Isabella was taken away. Hidalgo's lawyer Amber Fayerberg says her client was set up to fail.
"It is extremely common for women to relapse postpartum if pregnancy methadone treatment is cut off, as it was in this case," Fayerberg said in a statement to the Huffington Post. "If the Department’s lactation program is to be successful, it must permit mothers to continue to take those medications prescribed during pregnancy."
Although doctors encourage opioid-dependent mothers to breastfeed because it can help babies recover from exposure to opioids in the womb, most prisons don't allow women to breastfeed at all. Furthermore, most incarcerated opioid users are not permitted to use treatment drugs such as methadone and buprenorphine.
Hidalgo was prescribed methadone during her pregnancy because quitting opioids abruptly can increase the risk of preterm labor and fetal death. Hidalgo's doctor Lawrence Leeman said that, if she was any other patient, he would have prescribed methadone or buprenorphine after pregnancy. Leeman says these drugs are safe to use while nursing. However he had to halt the drug treatment after two weeks because Hidalgo was about to return to prison and wouldn't be allowed to take either medication while behind bars.
Leeman says breastfeeding is also a key component of Isabella's treatment plan. The baby was born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a treatable condition that is caused by exposure to opioids in utero. Many medical experts believe that breastfeeding and skin-on-skin contact with their mothers can aid the recovery of infants with NAS.
After testing positive for buprenorphine, Hidalgo is back to square one. Fayerberg says they may once again petition the court to allow her to breastfeed Isabella.
"It’s important to remember, she’s not just an inmate," Fayerberg said. "She’s a person, and a mother."