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An Australian mom was banned by a judge from breastfeeding her 11-month-old infant because she recently got a tattoo. On Friday, a family court overturned that ruling, allowing the mom to breastfeed again. It’s just another twist in what has turned into an epic custody battle played out in the courts - and the judge’s ban, experts say, set a “very dangerous precedent.”
Sydney judge Matthew Myers ruled this week that the breastfeeding mom’s decision to get her foot inked exposed her baby to an unacceptable risk of harm — despite the mother since testing negative for both hepatitis and HIV, according to Australia’s ABC news. Myers said the tests were inconclusive. The injunction was dismissed because the Family Court said Judge Myers made his decision after researching on the internet, ABC’s Australia news reports.
The case has come before the court because of concerns raised by the baby’s father as part of a bitter custody dispute. The mom, who is 20, according to an AFP report, was not identified in court papers.
The decision to ban nursing riled breastfeeding advocates, who said it set a dangerous precedent. “I think unless there’s evidence that she has contracted an infection as a result of that tattoo, then it is unreasonable,” noted Rebecca Naylor, head of the Australian Breastfeeding Association. She added, “Does that mean that women who expose themselves to any sort of risks around the contraction of a blood-borne virus… shouldn’t be allowed to breast feed?“
According to Jake Marcus, a Philadelphia-based attorney with expertise in breastfeeding and mothering law, a no-nursing ruling based on a tattoo seems unprecedented — though courts have used other reasons. “Judges in the U.S. have ruled a child was too old to be breastfed, that breastfeeding was or was not medically necessary based on an individual child’s history, and that the use of drugs or alcohol by a breastfeeding person created a danger to the child, thus requiring the child be weaned,” she tells Yahoo Parenting.
Marcus agrees the Australia decision sets a worrisome example.
“My fear in this, as with all other cases in which breastfeeding is court-limited, is the very dangerous precedent of examining every detail of a breastfeeding person’s life in a way that impinges on her rights,” she says. “What is next? Will breastfeeding people be monitored for unprotected sex, which has a far greater risk of passing blood-borne pathogens than a non-prison, non-street tattoo? I can’t help but wonder whether this is a case of a clever attorney for the father having the luck of an ignorant and socially biased judge.”
The fear of tattoo-related danger here seems unrealistic, she notes. “The fact is that if this tattoo was done in a regulated facility, the mother’s chances of acquiring a blood-borne infection are no higher than if she had had dental work, which is to say virtually zero,” Marcus says. “Blood-borne infections are acquired through sharing of needles. In legitimate tattoo parlors, just like in a dentist office, all needles are used for the single patient only and never shared.”
Perhaps one of the most baffling parts of a no-breastfeeding ruling is this: How can it possibly be enforced? “Sadly,” Marcus explains, “that is easy: more custody for the non-lactating parent.”
What certainly won’t be possible, she notes, is for courts to make future rulings that remain consistent with this case’s underlying premise. “There is no stopping breastfeeding people from having unprotected sex, which poses a far greater risk to the breastfeeding child,” she stresses. “How about the unacceptable risk of living in poverty? I would like to see a judge order a family be given safe affordable housing because that is truly in the best interest of the child. That is something I have never seen.”