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Eating This Kind of Bagel Before Labor Could Get You in Trouble

Bagels

Here at Kveller, we firmly believe in bagels — the more bagels, the better. Bagels for happy days, bagels for sad days; bagels for celebrations, for shivas, for everything.

So, naturally, we are in support of you eating as many bagels as you want during pregnancy. But there’s one type of bagel you may want to stay away from: the poppy seed bagel.

The Washington Post reported a horrifying story today about one Maryland mom, Elizabeth Eden, who ate a poppy seed bagel on the same morning that she went into labor. Yum, right? Well, as the Post explains, “While she was having contractions, a doctor came into her hospital room and informed her that she’d tested positive for opiates. Recalling having heard that poppy seeds could result in a false positive, she asked the doctor to test her again, she said. According to her account, he refused, and reported her to state officials.”

Because of this — “this” = a poppy seed bagel — Eden’s newborn daughter had to stay in the hospital an extra five days for monitoring.

And she’s not the only one.

There have been multiple lawsuits revolving around poppy seeds and testing positive for opiates. In 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit over a woman who had her newborn taken away after she failed a hospital drug test. The poppy seed bagel she ate before arriving at the hospital also resulted in a positive test for opiates — which, in this case, led the county to take her baby into “emergency protective custody.” The baby was taken away for five days, and returned when “local officials agreed there was no evidence the mother had used illegal drugs.”

Four years later, a similar suit occurred after a woman ate pasta salad with poppy seeds — and her baby was taken away for 75 days. As The Washington Post reported, “The policy [of drug testing women in labor] is being resurrected today after a new round of media reports about babies born addicted to meth or to prescription painkillers. These latest scares may well be legitimate public health concerns, or years from now we could learn that they were as exaggerated as the crack-baby scare. Either way, drug-testing women right after birth and then removing the babies after positive results is a pretty awful way to address the issue. These tests can and do produce false positives (as do drug tests on infants themselves.) And as with most drug war policies, minority and low-income women are far more likely be tested than white and wealthy women.”

The issue revolves around the test used by hospitals: Eating poppy seeds can definitely make you fail a drug test, but a subsequent test can easily rule out poppy seeds. Yet as The New York Times reported in 2005, “someone who has a poppy-seed bagel for breakfast and is tested later that day would still have far lower levels of morphine than a person who, for example, abuses painkillers.”

Before 1998, if you had morphine concentrations of 300 nanograms per milliliter, you were considered to test positive for opiates. In 1998, that limit was raised to 2,000 nanograms per milliliter. Basically you should be able to “eat three large poppy seed bagels and still pass the test.” But some hospitals still use that lower limit (300 nanograms).

Moral of the story? Until better systems are put in place, if you’re late in your pregnancy, stick to sesame bagels.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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