By: Erin Hollenkamp
Of the all the issues and disputes that might come up in a divorce case and a child custody hearing, breastfeeding is not an issue that many people would expect to encounter. But one Minnesota mother faces a potentially influential court ruling in the middle of her divorce case on this very fundamental aspect of motherhood.
Christa Burton, a resident of St. Cloud, Minnesota, is in the middle of a custody battle with Andrew Ahmann over rights to their son Carter, who was 15 months old at the time of the first news reports. In a controversial twist of events, the guardian ad litem, or Carter's court-appointed advocate, has formally recommended that Burton stop breastfeeding the child until a judge can make a final determination at the parental custody hearing that is shortly upcoming.
Originally, Burton had been told by her doctor that breastfeeding was one of the best ways to care for her child. Carter was born six weeks premature, and, in the estimation of her obstetrician, breastfeeding would be the most effective way to help the child gain weight and continue normal development.
However, Burton's situation raised some initial concern, since she is taking several kinds of medication whose potential effect on the breast milk cannot truly be determined. Burton is currently taking Topamax for migraine headaches, Baclofen for muscle spasms resulting from a car accident, and Ambien for sleep, as well as Tylenol 3.
In light of her use of these medications, the court advocate deemed that the safety of the child was called into question. In documents included with the recommendation, the court advocate refers to advice given by Burton's nurse practitioner that breastfeeding while using the medication could cause or exacerbate further development problems in the child. The overseer of the guardian advocates in the state of Minnesota, Brian Ansberry, said that the investigator in the Burton-Ahmann case is "erring on the side of safety".
However, the same nurse practitioner also was one of several medical professionals who advised her that breastfeeding while using the medications would be fine. Burton and the nurse practitioner consulted a medical book on the subject titled "Medications and Mothers' Milk," whose author, Dr. Tom Hale, confirmed his approval of the drugs in an e-mail to Burton.
The question of the safety of these and many other medications used while breastfeeding is one that obviously continues to meet uncertainty even in the medical community. In this case, the court's decision must stand despite the differing opinions offered to Burton on the matter that reflect a general lack of knowledge of the subject.
Newspapers and television news programs across the country are picking up this story due to its controversial nature. And Burton has become something of a figurehead for advocates of breastfeeding everywhere, who view the upcoming court decision on whether or not to let the investigator's recommendation stand as a potentially important moment for breastfeeding rights, as well as a precedent for courts to make such decisions for medical issues about which there is no consensus within the medical community.