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Christa Burton Facing a Potential Court Order to Wean Her Son

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Breastfeeding and custody issues are a hot topic right now. Apart from numerous emails I've been receiving about these issues, I spent some time on the phone yesterday afternoon with a midwife who had a client facing the issue as well.

Then I read my email this morning and find multiple messages about the case of Christa Burton. Burton is currently involved in a custody battle over her 15 month old son, Carter. Carter was born six weeks premature and doctors told Christa that breastfeeding him was the best thing she could do for his health. Burton is taking three prescription medications (Ambien, Topomax and Baclofin) but her N.P. cleared her to nurse after checking Dr. Hale's "Medications and Mother's Milk."

Things changed when Carter's father went after custody. WCCO reports:

On July 7, 2007, Carter's father, Andrew Ahmann, asked the district court to appoint a guardian ad litem to advocate for the best interests of the child. Ahmann is trying to get custody of his son, Carter.

The guardian ad litem's report relies heavily on the testimony of the same nurse practitioner that originally recommended breast feeding. She told the investigator "she recommended that given the developmental delays that Christa stop breast feeding" as the various medications can cause delays.

While I might normally err on the side of caution when dealing with issues like this, especially for a child older than a year and technically able to be weaned to something other than formula, we're not talking about medication that any recognized expert thinks is dangerous.

From the story:

Dr. Tom Hale, the author of "Medications and Mothers' Milk" e-mailed Burton, writing about the medications saying, "They are basically all fine, particularly in a 14-month-old infant who can metabolize drugs as good if not better than an adult."

Another expert, Dr. Jack Newman wrote, "I think you are being railroaded by people who don't know what normal is for breastfeeding."

"It's a tough call on some of these issues," according to Brian Ansberry, manager of the 7th District Court guardian ad litem program. He said his investigator was "not a medical expert herself" and "erring on the side of safety."

Yep, both Dr. Hale and Dr. Newman say these medications are perfectly fine. Yet the voice of someone who is "not a medical expert" is being taken over the voices of these internationally recognized experts.

I'm sure there is more to the story than what is being reported and I know more than one lactivist like myself that would like to speak to this mom to see if there's anything we can do to help.

If anyone reading this has contact with Christa Burton, please ask her to email me. I'd really like to see what else is going on here and if there's anyway I can help.


  1. Anonymous Rachel | 8:49 AM |  

    Thanks for pointing this out. I did a bit of poking around in LactMed, and posted what I found on these drugs. Outrageous.

  2. Anonymous Becky | 8:54 AM |  

    The parents should be ashamed.

    To tear this poor baby away from the consistent comfort of his Mother's arms and breast during this time up upheaval all around him is unconscionable.

    This is pure selfishness on the father's part (though I'm sure Mom is not entirely innocent in fanning the flames).

  3. Anonymous Anonymous | 9:31 AM |  

    Unfortunately, I think breastfeeding gets a bad rap when it comes to custody battles. I think it adds to the control issues and "I know what's best". As a mother, I would be devistated if I had to give up my child (and not breastfeed) for any length of time because my partner and I were no longer together, but at the same time, here we are asking fathers to participate and take a stronger roll as a care provider. I think some try to take advantage of it and use it for their own reasons (on both sides), not for the best interest of their child(ren).

    It's too bad that the court even gets to make a decision on something so personal.

    Still married... (with a 17 m.o.)

  4. Blogger Azhira | 11:15 AM |  

    My divorce was finalized shortly after my 10-month-old was born. Fortunately for me, the other half is very supportive of breastfeeding. I had so many troubles in the beginning, he waited months before taking the baby overnight on his own so that we could get nursing established. And, in the earlier months, we kept the timing so that he wasn't away from me too long so as to affect my supply.

    Right now we're back the baby sleeping next to me all night, every night--teething has made him fussy, and constantly in search of a breast. He does comment every once in awhile that he is impatient for the nursing to be cut down more, so it's easier to spend time with the baby, but he doesn't seem to be pushing me to wean. (Thank goodness.)

  5. Anonymous Shannon | 11:41 AM |  

    I saw this on the news yesterday and according to the news and Christa who was in the interview the father never wanted anything to do with her son until she seeked child support. He was never in the child's life until then. It's sad that this is happening. I hope that they listen to the professionals and not someone who doesn't know exactly what they are talking about.

  6. Blogger Brandy | 12:14 PM |  

    How absolutely infuriating! The part that bothers me the most is that the court takes the word of an investigator and not the words of those who actually have some knowledge about the issues. Just sickening.

  7. Blogger JudyBright | 1:35 PM |  

    It's absurd that the courts have any say in this whatsoever.

  8. Blogger Lesley | 2:17 PM |  

    My husband and I agreed long ago that should anything happen to us as a couple, we would do our best to not let it adversely affect the children. And he would not dream of interfering with the breastfeeding relationship. But then, he's a nurse and comes at it from a health professional aspect as well as one of a caring father.
    This sounds more like a case of using whatever leverage possible to get custody.
    I would love to see the day when the courts stop interfering with bf and bf no longer needs laws to protect it.

  9. Blogger ~jenn | 3:10 PM |  

    While any parent should be ashamed that they need to act in such a manner - I see myself siding with the man a lil on this one.

    SOOO much of what courts rule in custody cases (and divorces in general where children are concerned) is slanted in favor of the mother. In my family growing up, this was abused and with my husband, his ex abuses it to the -th degree.

    I don't think a child should be weaned from his mother at any age, but personally, I am very happy to see Dad's taken a litte more seriously in court and hopefully its a sign of change. I hope that the courts will allow for equal participation which is far greater than is typically given from sundown fri through sun.

    As sad as it is...the mother did her part to make this marriage dissolve and the father shouldn't have to pay the price with limited visitation cause she's unwilling to pump. My husband feeds our daughter often with a pumped bottle because i'm not too selfish to think that i'm the only one who deserves that bond with her.

  10. Blogger Eilat | 3:11 PM |  

    This seems like a right to privacy issue here. Imagine if a judge ordered a mother to stop smoking while pregnant or breastfeeding, or to wean because she was a smoker (even though its been proven that babies that are bf with moms who smoke fare much better than babies that are ff whose moms smoke). I don't know what kind of lawyers Ms. Burton has but I can see this as a major privacy rights issue. Im not a lawyer, but Id like to hear what a lawyer with an appropriate background might think...

  11. Blogger The Lactivist | 8:24 PM |  


    Umm...Jenn, are you aware that some moms cannot physically pump?

    Did you also read the story close enough to see that the court may actually order her to fully and 100% wean her child because they *think* the medication she is taking *might* cause a problem? Oh...and that they are ignoring the two most recognized experts on the subject in the world, both of whom say the medications are safe?

    I think it's essential that fathers be given consideration and I disagree that breastfeeding is a valid reason to keep a child from their father, but I find your comments to be incredibly out of line.

  12. Anonymous Jessica | 5:13 AM |  

    The courts are overstepping their boundaries on this one. Clearly, the medical experts point out there is no known cause of harm coming to the child from the mother's milk. Moreover, since the child was a preemie, the child should be getting the best nutrition possible so that he can get off to a good start in life.

    What are we going to have next, courts taking children away because mommy gives them a cookie that has some transfats in it or gives them scrambled eggs which are high in cholesterol?

    I do agree with the person who said that the child's father does have the right to visitation, but he also has the obligation to provide support for his child. And that support includes making sure the child is properly nourished.

  13. Anonymous Becky | 5:59 AM |  

    Those three medications taken separately may be safe. Essentially she is conducting an experiment on whether the three taken together are safe for her 15-month old. If the child is showing any signs of developmental delays (which I inferred he was) then the mom should stop taking the drugs.

    Ambien is for sleep, right? Then she could stop there and have somebody available to watch her son if she need to catch up on her sleep during daylight hours.

    I disagree with forcing the mother to wean.

    On the father "not wanting to be involved until the mother sought child support." Well, the mother can't have it both ways. She can't expect the father to fulfill his financial obligation without allowing him to be involved in co-parenting the child. She may have thought she could just get the support and the father would continue to be disinterested. But that didn't happen for her.

  14. Blogger ~jenn | 6:10 AM |  

    I chose not to take a single drug while i was preg or am bfing. CHOSE - i have my share of medical problems, but NOTHING is a known factor when discussing pregnant or lactating women. MOst drugs have no been around long enough to study the long term effects. Including hers.

    I also believe i read that her specific drug is class C. If there is more actual research that puts it in class A ~ I'm interested and can be swayed. Until then, its one opinion over another.

    For me - The 'expertness' doesn't matter to me until I see the independent research. (i don't trust dr's as far as their pharmaceutical reps can throw them)

  15. Blogger The Lactivist | 7:40 AM |  

    Are you familiar with Dr. Hale and Dr. Newman?

  16. Blogger Eilat | 10:10 AM |  

    I think the bigger issue here is the possible intervention by the courts into what a woman does with her body and how people choose to raise their kids. Even if the medications were harmful (I know some people will get angry at me now) it is not the place of a judge to tell a woman when to wean her child. Her doctor, certainly (although often they give poor advice, too). If this is allowed, it sets a precedent that may leaed to a slippery slope toward judges taking kids away from parents who smoke or engage in other randomly selected, dangerous behavior. I can come up with some wild what-ifs here.
    My understanding is that by law, a husband cannot compel his wife through the courts to either have or not have an abortion. Its her body. Her choice.
    I just don't see how legally an ex-husband can have the courts force a woman to stop breastfeeding. What the courts *can* do is take the kid away from the mom, thereby forcing weaning... But to order weaning directly? I'm not a lawyer and I'd love to hear what a civil-rights or family law attorney would have to say about this. But it just seems like a major violation of basic individual rights.

  17. Blogger Lesley | 10:40 AM |  

    Jenn, it sounds to me like you are coming from this from your own experience, which is fine and dandy, but you are not exactly respecting that others have very different experiences.
    For example, you might see this as "selfish", but I don't pump so my husband can have that particular bond. Why? Because it would literally take me a week of pumping to make up a bottle. Not because I can't produce, but because I can't pump. The most I've ever gotten at a pumping session has been 2 oz. What's more, my husband celebrates my breastfeeding bond with our child, and finds other ways to bond with him.
    Also, you must not be familiar with Dr Hale or Dr Newman if you can so easily dismiss their extensive expertise by saying "i don't trust dr's as far as their pharmaceutical reps can throw them".

  18. Anonymous Anonymous | 2:23 PM |  

    As a mother who's daughter refused a bottle... and still has breastmilk in the fridge too old to use, I get defensive when ANYONE (including my husband)suggests I start to wean my child. She's taking her own sweet time (at 17 m.o.). I can't imagine the courts telling me to do so.

    I think one area of the drug/slow development issue that hasn't been noted is that "Carter was born six weeks premature and doctors told Christa that breastfeeding him was the best thing she could do for his health."

    To me, it makes sense that if the child was born premature, then developmental issues would continue, with or without the mother taking drugs. In an ideal world, all mommies and babies would be healthy all the time with no need for medications before, during or afterward. I would hope that we would all want to do the best for our children, ourselves and our family.

    Still breastfeeding... (with a 17 m.o.)

  19. Blogger mommyandlily | 5:07 PM |  

    I also think classifying a woman as selfish just because she doesn't pump (regardless of it being due to an inability -- some women, like myself, simply hated pumping) is out of line. Feeding isn't the only opportunity for bonding!

  20. Blogger JudyBright | 8:25 PM |  

    I just read comment 10 and got an image in my head of a mom breastfeeding while puffing on a cigarette hanging out of the corner of her mouth. You know how some people can talk with a cigarette in their mouth without holding on to it?

    While I'd be mad if I saw that in real life, it's funny to think of the image.

  21. Blogger Stacie | 7:45 AM |  

    At about 9 months my chidlren started refusing bottles. Or, rather, they would gum the bottles and let the milk drip out all over themselves. I never had a problem pumping, but that was the end of it for me; from that point on all milk was "from the tap", as it were. Pumping and using bottled milk is not an option for many nursing dyads (or triads) for many different reasons.

  22. Blogger Sarahbear | 8:23 AM |  

    In response to Becky about the mother thinking she could 'have it both ways' and get child support but not have to allow visitation:

    Child support and custody/visitation are handled in completely different areas. You aren't allowed to decide how much time your ex gets to spend with their children based on whether or not you think you're receiving the appropriate amount of money. The courts know that the custodial parent would take advantage of this and they don't refuse visitation for parents who are unable to make child support payments (by choice or circumstance) and they don't reward the non-custodial parent with more visitation because they give above what they were ordered to by the court.

    While I think that parents need to work out their visitation and support issues outside of a courtroom, I understand that some parents absolutely can no longer get along.

    I do not think it's the court's place to step in and try to force a mother to wean her child (unless there's an actual danger). While I think the court has no business telling a mother when to wean their child, I also am glad that they are at least investigating it. I've heard too many stories about children being neglected or put in harm's way and the courts do nothing about it until it's too late.

  23. Anonymous Becky | 9:58 AM |  

    Sarahbear - I didn't say "visitation." I used the term "co-parenting." Often men only provide $$ support but do not get involved with their child's life. In this case I am saying it is reasonable that the father does not want to contribute financially but otherwise have no say in the upbringing of his son.

    This article has been subject to heated debate on some of my message boards.

    If you read this article with a more critical eye you can notice the following...

    She is taking ambien and apparently has been since the child was born. Normaly ambien is "short-term" meaning 4-5 weeks of use according to the ambien website. So she is now approaching 10-12 times the normal prescribed length for use of this drug. Could there be an addiction at play in the father's decision to gain custody?

    The NP apparently is seeing developmental delays. If there is any question of this being related to the drugs isn't it better to get the drugs out of the baby's system?

    This article is only the mother's side of the story. The knee-jerk reaction is to support the mother. However, I think there is more to this story.

  24. Anonymous belinda | 8:00 PM |  

    So because I didn't pump a bottle of milk every once in a while, I'm selfish? I suppose my grandmother who breastfed 10 children was also selfish for never allowing my grandfather to feed the children? And all of our great-grandmothers were also selfish? Every one of them? I don't pump because gratuitous bottles are a waste of the water it takes to wash them. My husband, when he's not out in the Iraqi desert, finds other ways to bond with the children. He would never dream of asking me to pump a bottle for him to feed the baby. He thinks men who do that are selfish.

    I believe that the father of this child is acting out of selfishness. He wants something that he can't have--the incredibly close bond between a mother and her nursling. Yes, the Ambien troubles me, but lots of us self-medicate ourselves to sleep from time to time. No one has a problem with a mother who needs a little help falling asleep sometimes. Especially one who is dealing with custody issues, epilepsy and developmental delays.

    Don't forget that as mothers, we are constantly assessing everyone's needs and determining whose needs are most urgent. Christa Burton is carefully weighing her own needs with those of her son. I think that she's smart for considering her own needs too. How many of us forgot to add our needs into the equation during those first few years of motherhood? Christa knows that she needs to take care of herself in order to take care of her baby, and in my book, that makes her very wise.

  25. Blogger ~jenn | 8:08 AM |  

    not to keep the debate going forever, but yes, I am familiar w. the good dr's. I was given Hales book.

    IMO - Just because these men are advocates for what we believe doesn't mean their research deserves any less of a critical eye than any other dr. out there.

  26. Anonymous txfeminist | 10:12 AM |  

    The WHO has a page on medications and breastfeeding. I looked up her meds and they were labeled "consistent with breastfeeding".

    'Nuff said on that subject.

    I'm positive Dad only sought visitation and forced the custody issue when she applied for Child Support. You cannot get TANF or other aid unless you list the father and that triggers a support action.

    I don't know if that is what she did or not, but why, suddenly, is he so interested now? Clearly, he's trying to force her hand. I hope the courts see it for the play that it is.

    Mothers have a right to seek support of a child born inside or outside of wedlock, and there's no reason a dad should have visitation rights if he took zero interest up until the support action. It's simply disingenuous that a previously disinterested party should have an opportunity to tell this woman how to live her life , or threaten to take away her child, because he doesnt' want to pay $200 bucks a month towards a child he helped concieve.

    Get over yourselves, folks.

  27. Anonymous Anonymous | 1:14 PM |  

    Some of the posts are actually tearing down the parents...have we missed the point of the debate? Why is this in court and why is the court telling a mother to quit breastfeeding. If we as parents do not want breastfeeding to become illegal then we need to step up and not let the courts start making decisions. This just outrages me.

  28. Anonymous Anonymous | 6:20 PM |  

    I don't think anyone should use any medication while breastfeeding. This woman sounds irresponsible.

  29. Anonymous Anonymous | 8:41 AM |  

    I'm a breastfeeding mom and in a custody situation. I'm not keen on overnights because my son is only 9 months & has never been away from me as a work at home sahm for more than the 2 hour supervised visits my abusive ex gets. His lawyer has already attacked my breastfeeding as the reasons for my ex's limited time with his son (disregarding the fact of him nearly killing me while pregnant) I think it's absurd that because an abuser wants to get revenge for my claiming child support, that he can now attack my choice to breastfeed my healthy son. Who has NEVER been ill. (thanks to my antibodies)

    I don't agree that court has the right to tell a woman to wean. I think that is absurd. I believe she can do things to assist the 'father' more time with the child by expresssing ect, but again the best interest of the child is to ensure that they aren't away from their primary care giver for too much time beyond 2-3 years old.

    It is a fact that any one can research, it's detrimental to a child's development!

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