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Mom Kills Baby by Breastfeeding

Did This Mom Really Kill Her Baby by Breastfeeding Her?

Here's a post from our partners at BabyCenter! Every week, we bring you the best parenting and lifestyle stories from the experts at BabyCenter, including this post about a mom's murder trial.

South Carolina mom Stephanie Greene was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Friday after a jury found her guilty of homicide by child abuse, involuntary manslaughter and unlawful conduct toward a child.

In 2010, Ms. Greene's 6-week-old daughter Alexis died, reportedly due to an overdose of morphine delivered through her breast milk. Toxicology reports revealed that the level of morphine found in the infant's system was enough to potentially kill an adult. Investigators revealed that they found dozens of pill bottles and painkiller patches in Ms. Greene's bedroom, well within reach of her then 4-year-old son.


Related: 4 ways to productively disagree with another parent

The 39-year-old former nurse has been taking a variety of painkillers since a 1998 car accident that left her with a fractured skull and pelvis. Her lawyer Rauch Wise says that Ms. Greene, who has three other children, lives in "chronic pain." In 2004, she lost her nursing license after it was found that she'd tried to illegally call in medication prescriptions and also refused a drug test.

When she discovered she was expecting her fourth child in 2010, Ms. Greene hid the pregnancy from doctors so that she could continue to get painkillers, but baby Alexis was born healthy, weighing 7lbs, 2oz.

Ms. Greene's husband and other family members insist that she was a hands-on, devoted mother in the weeks after Alexis' birth. She took her to her 4-week checkup and also to a pediatric ophthalmologist appointment. When Alexis came down with a stuffy nose, she called her pediatrician for advice. She chose to breastfeed, but says that she talked to a lactation consultant about the possible impact of the painkillers. She was directed to an NIH web site, which reportedly advised that morphine was relatively safe for nursing moms.

Early in the morning of November 13, 2010, Ms. Greene breastfed Alexis in bed when she awoke, the two of them then falling back asleep. A few hours later her husband woke up and noticed that the baby "felt cold." When they realized she wasn't breathing, Ms. Greene began infant CPR and called 911, though according to reports sounded "groggy and unfocused." The paramedics soon arrived, but they weren't able to revive Alexis. Nine months later Ms. Greene was arrested.

Even before this week's conviction, the case has been a very controversial one, debated by moms here at BabyCenter and well beyond. Indeed, it raises several difficult questions, not the least of which is, what are the true risks of breastfeeding while taking medication? How much morphine can be transmitted via nursing? According to the defense lawyer in this case, not much.

While his client's drug use is not being disputed — "She needed those meds to get up in the morning and function," he says — Mr. Wise notes, "What's scary to me is that the state thinks enough of a drug can be distributed through breast milk to kill a baby."

The state, however, paints a very different picture: "This is not an indictment on breast feeding," says prosecutor Barry Barnette. "She loved her drugs more than she loved her baby."

More great reads from BabyCenter:
When is your child ready to ride around the block — alone
If moms said what they were really thinking at the park
12 ways to say no without the guilt
6 natural toothpaste recipes you can make at home

Image Source: Shutterstock
Join The Conversation
Dyan92107 Dyan92107 3 years

This is a tragedy, my heart goes out to the family who has lost a baby and now the other kids will lose their mom and her husband will lose a wife. She has to fo rthe rest of her life live with the fact that she killed her baby. I think she be placed in rehab and the family some serious therapy to cope. I don't think it makes sense to punish her more. Also we need to examine these drugs , so many things deemed safe are then taken off the market etc. Just a terrible situation.

AlanaBrewer1398372560 AlanaBrewer1398372560 3 years

I feel for this mom and I am sorry she is going to prison. She is dealing with her own daily pain that she needs medication for and the loss of her baby on top of going to prison. She doesn't deserve to be in prison. Our tax dollars are wasted for the next 20 years on this. Prison is for real criminals. Sentencing her does nothing positive for the mom or taxpayers. Her remaining kids are the ones who suffer here.

Bethany79499 Bethany79499 3 years

I am in chronic pain due to multiple herniated discs and a congenital hip defect, which caused severe arthritis. I also wanted a child, and knew that by getting pregnant, I would have to stop my meds, which I did. I knew I had to stay off my meds to breastfeed, which I did for 8 weeks, until the pain became unbearable. After speaking with my own doctor and my daughter's pediatrician, I decided to pump and dilute so that she still got some of my milk for another two or three months until my supply dwindled.

Why am I sharing this? Because it IS possible to manage chronic pain and pregnancy/breastfeeding. This woman was a nurse, she should have known better and obviously had a problem. That said, I think 20 years is a bit steep for someone who, if she is anything like most of us mothers, is already serving a life sentence of unthinkable guilt. Are there opportunities for rehab? That is what she really needs if she is taking more than she needs. Also, I just read that the morphine levels in the child's blood could have been the result of a genetic defect, as the morphine should not have passed from the breast milk in such quantities. Even so, the mother should have taken steps to avoid ANY morphine from passing to the baby; breast is best, but in this situation, formula should have been considered the preferred method of feeding had she been unable to go off her meds. I understand that she was in a great deal of pain, but the alternative was there, and as a nurse, she should have known that. This situation is just unfortunate for all involved.

CindyDehoff CindyDehoff 3 years

The mom had been taking this for years your body builds up an immunity and you keep needing more in order to fight the pain. I work in healthcare and when i see patients getting doses that should knock someone out but yet still clsiming pain, its called an addiction. If she lost her nurses licenses for forging scripts i would say she is addict even if she "needs"the meds

CindyDehoff CindyDehoff 3 years

If you knowingly taking narcotics then you should be smart enough to know not to breastfeed. She knowingly made a harmful decision. It said she was a nurse a nurse knows the effects of drugs

jeff1376266399 jeff1376266399 3 years

This one is mama's fault all the way. The severe lack of common sense in this country is just hideous. No mom should have been breastfeeding their child while on that many, and that much, drugs. That baby should have been nowhere near her mother's breasts. She should have been on formula...period. This woman hid the fact that she was pregnant so she'd have no problem getting painkillers. When you love your drugs more than your baby this is what happens. If they had proof, beyond a reasonable doubt and not "shadow" of a doubt, that the morphine killed the little girl , then this mom is exactly where she belongs.

TeresaJenkins72734 TeresaJenkins72734 3 years

I had a c section and stayed in the hospital for a week. When I delivered my son, the next day they told me that I could breast feed my son. I was still on the morphine drip. I remember asking was it safe for my son and was told yes even though I felt like I was going in and out. I asked for the formula after the first time cause I didn't feel right about passing it on to him . After a week or so I started back breastfeeding. She should have taken another drug or use the formula instead.twenty years is a long time in jail but the judge sentenced her based on her past history with drugs. We don't even know if she passed out and rolled on her child Or how much she took. What may affect adults in a small way may cause serious damages to a baby. Strength of meds are given out based on weight and age. She had other choices. Now her other children are without a mother and a baby is dead.

RebeccaJesso1369092240 RebeccaJesso1369092240 3 years

Huffington Post covers this much better:

Some details still remain unclear, but I do agree, that she consciously hid her pregnancy and continued taking pills which may have been dangerous, especially since she is a nurse, she should be punished. If she wanted to carry her pregnancy to term and birth her baby, she should have done everything in her power to ensure the health of her child. She should be punished, but 20 years seems extreme.

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