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But Texas District Judge Barbara Walther's order that nursing mothers not be allowed to breastfeed their babies and toddlers - 77 under age 2 at last count - while in state custody seems unwarranted, even heartless.

We cannot see how these infants and toddlers, even if their parents' polygamous lifestyle puts female children at risk of sexual abuse when they're older, as the state claims, could be endangered simply by breastfeeding.

In fact, the judge's reasoning on this point seems ludicrous. Breastfeeding is certainly not one of the polygamous practices that are being challenged as systemically abusive. And it's not likely that the mothers could plot with these small children to hinder the state's case in some way as they are nursing.

Worse, the judge's order is not in the interest of these children's physical and mental health. And it's not something that the mothers can resume if the children are, eventually, returned to them. In other words, the court would be permanently depriving these children of the best nutrition available, even if the state fails to prove its case against their parents.

And breastfeeding is more than good nutrition. The bond that forms when a child is fed at a mother's breast has been found to be important to its emotional good health.

Nevertheless, the state Child Protective Services plans to send 95 mothers home who are now caring for their children under age 5 under state supervision.

We believe that is unconscionable.

If, as one Texas CPS official said, "Our main thing is to protect children from abuse and neglect," these tiny children should be allowed the benefits of breastfeeding. To deprive them of those benefits, when so much that is familiar has been taken from them, is simply abuse by another name.

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