How Will Breastfeeding Affect Child Custody?

Breastfeeding has become a very hot topic again lately, as more medical studies support the value of breastfeeding and nursing mothers assert their rights to feed their babies in public. How does this issue come into play, however, when it comes to divorced parents and shared custody? Whether you're a mother or a father, read more to learn about how this issue could affect you and your child.  

Both science and the law support breastfeeding.

The science is certainly on the side of breastfeeding mothers. The American Academy of Pediatrics has continuously reasserted its recommendation that infants should be breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months of life. There are numerous studies that point to both the short-term and long-term health and neurological benefits, all of which an attorney can use in court to help encourage the court to allow a nursing mother to maintain sole custody–for a reasonable period of time.

There are only 3 states that actively address breastfeeding and make it part of the custody determination. However, even in states that lack active legislation, judges are often reluctant to disrupt the breastfeeding process of young infants by authorizing long visits to the father. In addition, just because something isn't specifically addressed in the law, that doesn't mean that it can't be brought up by your lawyer during a custody hearing and included in the court's decision-making process.

There are other concerns with older infants.

However, having two parents is also something that benefits a child, so breastfeeding can't be used as a device to keep a child away from his or her father.

For example, a nursing mother in Pennsylvania made national headlines in 2013 when she told media sources that a judge had ordered her to stop nursing her 10-month old child or risk losing custody altogether. The judge in the case, however, responded to the allegations and made it clear that he made no such order. What he expected was for the mother to begin following the court-ordered visitation schedule. It would likely require the mother to express her milk and the child to take a bottle, but the child was already supplementing with baby food.

And the courts do consider that to be a reasonable request,  despite the inconvenience to the mother. Keep in mind, if you're the mother in a similar situation, that child custody arrangements are seldom convenient for either side. in addition, the court's primary concern is the overall well-being of your child. That includes many factors, including developing a relationship with his or her father.

A cooperative plan is best.

Whether you're the mother or the father of a nursing infant, the best plans are those that you can agree on together. For example, short visits several days in a row for two hours a day could be arranged fairly easily even with young infants. After six months of age, it gets easier to extend that time and supplement feedings with baby food, until the baby can gradually be transitioned to overnight visits once he or she is weaned. If the mother desires to nurse longer, the father should cooperate as much as possible, so long as he is being allowed liberal daytime visitation. 

For more information on what to do if breastfeeding is an issue in your child custody case, talk to an attorney (such as one from today.