Breastfeeding and Child Custody: can it affect a visitation schedule decision?

The best interest of the child is always the prime factor the courts consider when determining child custody and visitation schedules. Breastfeeding, a practice that offers multiple health benefits, requires a certain amount of time and commitment from the mother, so it will naturally impact visitation. Exclusive breastfeeding can be a subject of contention in many custody cases, and there are arguments both for and against the practice.

Breastfeeding and Child Custody Issues

There are scientifically proven benefits of breastfeeding. According to the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP), breastfeeding boosts the infant’s immune system, providing protection from the following diseases.

  • Respiratory illnesses
  • Ear infections
  • Gastrointestinal diseases
  • Allergies

It also cuts the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by one-third and reduces the risk of adolescent and adult obesity by up to 30 percent.

Breastfeeding also encourages a healthy attachment between the mother and the child, which fosters the child’s emotional development. But do all these benefits mean that the father’s attachment is of secondary importance? No. A child should have a healthy connection to both parents for healthy development.

Coming Up with Viable Answers to Breastfeeding Concerns

The AAP recommends “exclusive breastfeeding for about the first six months of a baby's life, followed by breastfeeding in combination with the introduction of complementary foods until at least 12 months of age, and continuation of breastfeeding for as long as mutually desired by mother and baby.” 

Judges usually side in favor of these recommendations. But there are many ways to adjust visitation schedules to meet these suggestions.

It’s important to work with your attorney to devise a workable visitation schedule that takes your child’s physical and emotional needs into consideration. In some cases, the mother might consider using a breast pump so that the father can have more visitation time and make use of a more common child visitation schedule. If the child is older than 12 months, the parents could consider weaning to make visitation easier.

As part of the visitation schedule, a plan could be created that gradually increases time with the father as the child gets older. For example, until a child is six months old, overnights with the father may not be a possibility because the mother may be breastfeeding exclusively and using a bottle might cause nipple confusion. During this period, two-hour visits a few times a week might be appropriate. When the child is older, overnights may be more suitable, if practicable.

Calling a Family Law Attorney to Address Breastfeeding Concerns

These types of cases sometimes necessitate professional opinions and expert testimonies from pediatricians, as well as a divorce attorney who understands the intricacy of breastfeeding issues. For help with your custody case, call our family law office in Bellevue at 425-460-0550.

Molly B. Kenny
Founder and Principal Divorce Attorney
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