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Inmate sues for right to breast feed

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

An inmate who is suing the state prison system because she hasn’t been allowed to breast-feed her baby secured a restraining order late Thursday that allows her to feed her child and have access to an electronic breast pump.

Inmate Monique Hidalgo, in prison in Grants since September 2016 after multiple probation violations in a drug case, filed suit against the Department of Corrections, its officials and two guards on Thursday. The lawsuit says orders from her doctor and her baby’s physician team say Hidalgo should breast-feed the child to help her recover from being born addicted to opioids. Hidalgo received treatments with methadone, an opioid, in prison, according to her physicians referenced in the suit.

Hidalgo, from Albuquerque, gave birth to a girl at the University of New Mexico Hospital on May 22.

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But when she returned to prison on June 8, she was no longer allowed to breast-feed the infant during routine family visits when inmates who are parents are allowed to hug and hold their children and other family members.

Nor was she able to use an electronic breast pump to produce milk between visits. Instead, she was required to use a manual pump that most experts say should be used as backup or for temporary use.

S.U. Mahesh, spokesman for the Department of Corrections, said Friday that the department will attempt to overturn the judge’s order, because officials believe the judge was not told that Hidalgo tested positive for suboxone, a drug used to treat opioid addiction, on Wednesday. Suboxone is considered contraband in the prison, Mahesh said.

Hidalgo’s attorney, Amber Fayerberg, said that the positive test has not been confirmed, but that Hidalgo had been treated in the hospital with suboxone, and that Hildago’s doctors, aware of Wednesday’s drug test, said the milk is safe.

Mahesh said that while there is no official lactation policy, concern about milk safety is just one of “many reasons” Hidalgo and other inmates have not been allowed to breast-feed and have, until Hidalgo’s case, been prohibited from pumping milk.

“The security concern is we always have people try to smuggle. There were cases where drugs … (were) brought through with families and kids and strollers,” Mahesh said.

He could not explain how breast-feeding would increase this risk, but he did say the prison was trying to work with Hidalgo.

He added that the Corrections Department is working on creating a lactation policy and that it likely won’t include live breast-feeding.

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“It’s not just the baby and the mother there. There are other people in that room, other inmates who are there, females and their families, including males, there are a lot of people who may not feel comfortable,” Mahesh said.

Fayerberg said Friday that the smuggling risk is not increased by allowing a mother to breast-feed. As for restricting the practice because it makes some uneasy, Fayerberg said she believes that “to justify (prohibiting breast-feeding) they need more than it might make someone uncomfortable.”

The lawsuit seeks to force the New Mexico Women’s Correctional Facility in Grants to allow Hidalgo to breast-feed and also to have access to an electronic breast-milk pump, which is more efficient at maintaining a woman’s milk supply than the manual pump Hidalgo has access to now.

The restraining order secured Friday means Hidalgo, when not feeding the baby herself, can now use such a pump in the prison’s infirmary and then store her milk in a freezer for pick up by her family, which is caring for the baby.

The lawsuit also seeks damages against guards who she says shackled her during her two-week hospital stay, causing her to fall while holding her baby. Mahesh said all inmates at hospitals are restrained.

He also said in a written response that “there were several security breaches committed by Ms. Hidalgo while she was at the University of New Mexico Hospital. Ms. Hidalgo has a documented history of abusing drugs and absconded from her probation for two years before her arrest in September 2016. … The Corrections Department is not only concerned for the safety of its inmates, but in this particular case the safety of a child.”

Lissa Knudsen, chairwoman of the New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force, said her organization has been advocating for Hidalgo’s desire to breast-feed and offered the prison system a free electronic breast pump. After learning of the judge’s order Friday, she said someone in her group will attempt to deliver the breast pump to the prison today.

“Some of this is brand new. This is probably the first time Corrections has had to deal with this. But with breast-feeding there are health care costs saved, child abuse rates go down, and if they (mom and child) can bond now that helps her to be a better mom and that helps that baby have better psychological outcomes. It’s just extremely valuable,” Knudsen said.

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