Parenting Time and Breastfeeding / by Cassandra Hearn

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Even though having a new baby in the family is a happy time, it can also be chaotic and stressful as new parents try to acclimate to the needs and demands of a small infant. This stress is only compounded when a divorce or custody dispute occurs during this time. Custody disputes involving infants present unique challenges, which is especially true when a child is breast feeding. Breast feeding is acknowledged by many scientific studies as having distinct health benefits for an infant, as well as providing bonding time between mother and child. However, breast feeding can severely complicate visitation for a father. Infants eat often, sometimes as often as every two hours or even more frequently during growth spurts. If the child is exclusively breast fed, parents must work to construct a visitation schedule that simultaneously provides time for a father to have meaningful visitation while not disrupting a child’s feeding schedule. The best interest of the child is always the prevailing standard when a court makes a visitation determination. Although whether the child is breast fed is not one of the enumerated considerations, a court may include this in its consideration of the visitation schedule nonetheless. It is common for fathers to have no overnight or prolonged visitation when a child is very small and still breastfed. As a child ages and can go for longer periods of time between feedings, a father can enjoy longer visitation periods. Some mothers may decide to engage in extended breastfeeding. While this is a perfectly legitimate choice for a mother to make, a court is unlikely to prevent extended or overnight visitation for a father for an extended period of time based solely on the mother’s decision to breast feed a child for an extended time.

Another option that parents may want to explore is having the mother pump milk and provide a supply to the father to use during his visitation time. If a mother works outside of the home and already provides a supply to daycare workers or other care providers, this would be an especially valid possibility. However, new parents should be aware that pumping is not an effective strategy for every mother, and a court is highly unlikely to order a mother to pump against her will.

If you are engaged in a custody dispute involving an infant, you need the help of an experienced attorney. Contact us today at 619-800-0384 to discuss your case and what we can do to help you.