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Joy of childbirth turned into trauma — because of a poppy seed bagel

Thought Leader: Leana Wen
December 27, 2022
Written by: Leana Wen

Jack and Katie Keenan thought the birth of their first child would be the most joyous moment of their lives. They knew they wanted children when they got married, and they felt fortunate to be pregnant within a year of their wedding. The pregnancy went smoothly, and 10 days before Katie’s due date, her water broke.

At the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, right before she delivered a healthy baby girl, Makenzie, Katie took various tests. One of them was a urine test, which had a surprising finding: It was positive for opioids.

This result raised alarms because babies born to mothers using opioids can develop neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), where the newborn experiences withdrawal symptoms. That includes difficulty feeding, vomiting, fevers and seizures. Untreated NAS can be deadly.

But Katie vehemently denied using opioids. She didn’t take any pain medications or use illicit substances.

Upon questioning, she reported eating two “everything” bagels that contained poppy seeds. These aren’t opioids and wouldn’t cause NAS, but they can mimic morphine and codeine to trigger positive urine tests.

A photo of Makenzie Keenan, courtesy of the Keenan family.

Because Maryland, like most states, requires reporting positive drug testing, a social worker started an investigation and told them child protective services could get involved. Katie felt strongly about breastfeeding Makenzie, but a lactation consultant told her she wasn’t allowed to help.

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