Maggie Jean Wortman will spend the next 6 years in prison because she breast fed her 5-week old son, Michael Phillip Acosta III.
On the morning of November 21, 2010, Baby Michael was unresponsive and the stiffness of rigor mortis was already apparent in his legs and feet. CPR was not necessary. He was pronounced dead on arrival at the local hospital. The final toxicology report revealed “methamphetamine toxicity” which Wortman refused to believe. She claimed that someone snuck in her home and suffocated the baby while she slept. Facing a maximum sentence of 11 years, Wortman pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges thinking it would earn her a sentence of probation. It did not. On March 20th, Wortman received a 6 year sentence. Although her lawyer thinks the sentence is excessive and his client should be remanded to a drug rehab program, it’s not going to happen. In addition to spending the next 6 years in prison, Wortman also lost custody of her 19-month old daughter.
Can a baby die from breastfeeding? Yes, if it is exposed to a toxic substance. A newborn’s kidneys and liver are too immature to eliminate toxic substances from the body. Methamphetamine directly affects the central nervous system and the brain. The blood-brain-barrier, a mechanism that protects the brain from receiving harmful substances is immature in a newborn. It does not become fully mature until the middle of the first year of life. Drugs such as meth will be more concentrated in breast milk because of its high concentration of fat. If Wortman had known these facts in advance, would it have made a difference? Who knows? But here’s the question: Why was the baby allowed to come home with Wortman after a urine test confirmed substance abuse while she was still pregnant? And why wasn’t she referred for drug rehabilitation?
Although Baby Michael cannot be resurrected, we can certainly try to prevent this tragedy from happening again. If you’re abusing drugs, please don’t breastfeed and if you want to breastfeed but are unsure whether a drug is safe, please consult the National Library of Medicine’s Drug and Lactation Database http://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/sis/search
Remember, a healthy pregnancy doesn’t just happen. It takes a smart mother who knows what to do.