Woman banned from breastfeeding due to tattoo

A judge, Matthew Myers, in Australia banned a mother from breastfeeding her 11 month old child due to concerns about her possibly contracting HIV or another blood born virus after getting a tattoo. Thankfully, the ban was overturned by an emergency Appeals Court decision, but the implications of such a decision on women’s bodily autonomy are incalculable.

The risks of transmission of HIV or other blood born viruses from a tattoo at a licensed tattoo parlour are minute. Women are far more likely to contract these viruses from a partner who has sex with other women whilst she is pregnant or breastfeeding. There will never be a call banning men from having sex (or raping) their pregnant or breastfeeding partners in case they pass on a blood born virus. Frankly, the biggest danger to a foetus or a breastfeeding infant is domestic violence perpetrated by the father. The criminal justice system consistently underestimates, minimises and ignores this evidence-based risk to infant and mother health.

Interestingly, all the media coverage I read on this judgment focused on the issue of breastfeeding but there is a much bigger problem than a judge who bans a mother from breastfeeding based on a tattoo. The reason behind the ban was the fact that the mother had been diagnosed with postnatal depression and the judge felt this negated her ability to mother. The judge was looking for an excuse to interfere with mothering. Myers made the suggestion of a ban during a custody hearing. He couldn’t use the mother’s mental health to ban breastfeeding so he used the tattoo instead.

This was a considered attack on a woman’ ability to mother her child using every excuse possible to break the bond with the child. It’s pretty clear this judge believes fathers’ ‘rights’ to own their children supersedes the rights of the child and the mother. A judge who goes out of his way to research the minute risks of breastfeeding to prevent a mother from feeding her child is not someone who should be allowed to proceed over custodial agreements. This judgment had nothing to do with the child’s health and everything to do with the judge’s prejudiced beliefs about mothers with postnatal depression.

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