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Custody Battles for Breastfeeding Children

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Wow, this is a tough one folks. There's a story in the news right now from South Carolina that revolves around the problems produced by shared custody of a breastfeeding eight month old.

From WCBD News in Charleston, SC:

Many mothers may not think twice about their right to breastfeed, but not Melissa Garris. She says, "My baby went from being with me 24/7 to being with his daddy for an entire week."

A judge granted split custody of Garris' four month-old son to her husband during an emergency hearing. The couple is separated and lives an hour apart.

Garris' Attorney Leigh Hunter said, "There used to be a tender age doctrine where there was a presumption the child would be with the mother during the tender years, but that's no longer the case here in South Carolina. We are going more towards the trend of giving dad a lot more time." Garris is battling that trend. Her son is now eight months-old.

According to Hunter, neither Melissa or Carl Garris claims the other parent endangers the baby, but Melissa Garris says babies need stability and consistency, especially when it comes to breast feeding. "That's what women were made for. They're made to nurture babies. That's why women have breasts," Garris told News 2's Jenny Fisher.

In light of the story, the South Carolina Breastfeeding Action Committee is pushing for legislation that would guarantee custody to a breastfeeding mother UNLESS there is indication that the child would be in danger. Maine, Michigan and Utah already consider breastfeeding when awarding custody.

Again...it's a tough one.

When you've got two loving, wonderful parents, joint custody is usually the best option for all. Children need to spend time with both their mother and their father. However, if you take a child under the age of one, you're putting the breastfeeding relationship at serious risk by having the extended separations that can come with joint custody. (I think nurslings that are a year and older could probably be a little more flexible in terms of drinking expressed milk for a few days and then picking up nursing when they're with mom again...but that's just my opinion.)

On the other hand, I hate to think of a loving father missing those tender years of his child's life. I'd like to think that parents would work to make sure they lived close enough together that they could work the situation out on their own, but we all know that's not always possible.

For health reasons, I've really got to side with the mothers on this one. Not every mom can maintain a supply through pumping, especially when you're talking about pumping 24/7 instead of simply during the few hours that mom is at work. There's also the issue that not every breastfed baby will even take a bottle.

So what do you think? At what point does it become ok to ask a mom to share custody of a breastfed child? When they're a year? When they're two? When they self-wean? Would you support laws of this type?


  1. Blogger beth | 10:18 AM |  

    I think that if there is nothing proving the mom is incapable, she should have sole custody for the first year if she is breastfeeding. For all the reasons you mentioned: the possible inability to pump and maintain a supply, the possibility the baby may not even take a bottle, the stability involved of having the breast near the baby when the baby needs it - I know my baby needed the breast for more than just nourishment - and still does! Also there is nipple confusion, where the baby will learn to drink from a bottle while at dad's and then come back and not have the right latch or be too lazy to nurse because the bottle is so much easier. Breastfeeding is best, not just for nourishment (though that is a HUGE reason), but for comfort and love. Of course, my beliefs also are such that I don't believe divorce to be an option unless in extreme circumstances, which this case doesn't seem to have. So I feel they could have worked harder to maintain a healthier relationship, not only for each other, but for their child so that they didn't have to go through this.

  2. Blogger Velcromom | 11:00 AM |  

    There is no reason I would be in favor of an infant being away from its mother for days at a time, or even overnight, regardless of the feeding method. The fact that the child is breastfeeding makes it even more crucial that the child remain with the mother. Besides, has anyone thought about what is most important here - the child's right to breastfeed? The right to have access to the food it is meant to eat and the health benefits it needs?

    I'd point to the WHO guidelines on this one, as well as the AAFP who says bluntly in their guidelines, "A child is at increased risk for illness if weaned before the age of two". I could only support a law that would make it physically possible for the mother to maintain her milk supply long enough to meet the recommended minimum length of breastfeeding. Putting the child in a situation where the mother is forced to rely on a breastpump to maintain supply for a week at a time, is essentially taking away the child's right to the food and health benefits nature intended for it. What dad wouldn't want his child to receive the benefits of greater health?

    If the parents had the child's best interest in mind, neither would insist on an arrangement that essentially forces weaning from lack of contact with the mother.

    It's sad that we even need laws to make parents act in their children's best interest. In cases of custody it is all to common that a parent gives priority to what will hurt the other parent instead of what will be best for the child. In this case, the father is pushing for an arrangement that will take away more from the child than the child will gain. That is a clear indicator he doesn't have the child's best interest in mind. If it takes a law to knock into parent's heads that it's their job to do what's best for the kids, not to punish the other parent at the kid's expense, then so be it. Sad, but all too common.

  3. Blogger Mother Laura | 2:19 PM |  

    The breastfeeding mom definitely deserves full custody up to one year. After that, negotiable, depending on how far it is to the dad's place and how attached the child still is to nursing.

  4. Blogger Jennifer | 2:52 PM |  

    I think the thing that makes this compliated is that it *IS* hard not to look at it from the parent's perspective. When I think of a good dad not getting to have his child for more than a few hours at a time, it breaks my heart.

    But it's true that we absolutely MUST put children's needs ahead of adults and while children NEED their father, they also NEED breastmilk and the nursing relationship if it's at all possible.

    I guess my hope would be that parents would work extra hard to ensure that both parents got to spend tim with the child but did so in a way that wouldn't disrupt nursing.

    A nursling that sleeps through the night probably COULD easily spend a night with the father while the mom pumped once in the evening and once in the morning.

    An 18 month old is obviously going to be more flexible in their nursing needs than a 3 month old.

    I'm with others in that I'd HOPE that parents would really work to make sure the child's needs were met while still being concious of the parents needs and rights.

    I guess it's just hard on me to imagine a young child without daily access to their father. I watch my kids with my husband and I think to myself "wow...what would they do without him?" Then I ask myself "wow, what would he do without THEM?"

    You know? It's easy for us moms to "do the right thing" by the child since the right thing ensures that they stay with us. Is it really so hard to see why it woudl be hard on a dad to give that up? A good father loves his child every bit as much as a mother does...but the mother's not the one being asked to give up that time.

    Kinda sucks for the dad.

  5. Anonymous Nicki | 8:23 PM |  

    In Michigan, breastfeeding is written into the custody and parenting time laws and very much taken into consideration. Also it is common and likely that a referee/judge would agree with stipulations such as feeding only expressed milk instead of formula presuming the Mother supplies enough, obviously.

    A child has a right to a good bonding relationship with both parents from birth but there are ways to accomplish that that do not entail prolonged separation or reliance on artificial feedings. Shorter, more frequent visitations are the norm here for little ones. But keep in mind that many women breastfeed and work outside the home 40 hours or more a week. If a woman can leave her six week old in childcare, particularly in cases where she IS leaving her child in children, isn't it preferable that the child be with his father instead?

    When my husband and his ex-wife divorced, shortly after his youngest child was born, overnights were not even humored until close to the end of the first year. Now, 7 years later, he has primary custody and a great bond. Lactation and bonding, as we all know, are not exclusive of each other.

    Courts (and fathers) just need to respect that the breastfeeding relationship, for at least the first six months, trumps the need for the infant to be away overnight.

  6. Anonymous JG | 3:09 PM |  

    The point being, when does being a Dad make you less a part of the baby's life?

    If you put a child mainly with one parent for one year, when the other parent wants more time it is even harder!

    I agree that with the little information on the topic, it seems they BOTH are putting themselves ahead of the baby.

  7. Anonymous Cindy M. | 3:55 PM |  

    This is a tough issue but I hate it when parents bring politics into child custody battles.

    A mom who is nurturing enough to breastfeed should also understand the importance of the father/child bond.

    Breastfeeding for the first several months of life does provide a great foundation for newborns, but to choose between breastfeeding and the support of the other parent is ridiculous.

  8. Anonymous Anonymous | 3:02 PM |  

    Do you remember in the bible the story about King Solomon and the two women who both said the baby was their own and he said he would cut the baby in half and the real mother stepped up and said-No don't kill the baby let her have the baby to save her own. Well I think any dad who really loves his child will want what is best and that is being healthy, and smart, and well ajusted. So any dad that wants to take a baby overnight and not allow it to breastfeed is not a very caring dad. So the judge should order only a few hours at a time with this dad. A loving dad would want to make sure his baby gets as much breastmilk as possible, and would work to make that happen!

  9. Anonymous Shana | 3:37 PM |  

    Spending time with both parents is more beneficial than breast milk.

  10. Blogger Tasha | 11:46 PM |  

    This is something that I am very close too. I have twin 5 month old boys who I have soley breastfeed, but when their dad wanted them for visitation I did my best to make this happen! Unfortunately my breast milk supply is suffering and I don't have a lot of support to even know how to get it back. Their father just wants them on formula, yet I know the importance of breastmilk at least until the age of one. I think that breastfeeing babies need to be given the opportunity to breastfeed soley until a year old. Mothers being forced to pump to maintain feedings (especially for twins)can damage the supply and in my case cause nipple confusion. Also a health risk that I have encountered is mastitis. Because when pumping at 2 am I am not clearing the breast all the way so no I am constantly battling this, which doesn't seem fair. We are now getting ready to go to court for visitation, and I am uterly terrified. I want to be able to take my sons to a yr but what if a judge has something else in mind? Should the judge be the one allowed to make that call? There is so much documentation supporting the benefits of breastfeeding that I just don't understand this view point! I want my children's father to very involved in their life but not if that is risking all that I have worked so hard to provide to them!

  11. Anonymous Anonymous | 6:27 PM |  

    I agree, I think breastfed babies should be with their mother the first year and the father with visitaion....the first year is the most crucial and I dont agree with fathers getting more rights unless there was something wrong with the mother. A mother carries a baby for 9 mnths and bonds with that child, a mother delivers a child and the baby knows its mother voice and smell at birth, I think a child needs its mother the first year and esp when being breastfed, you cant pump that much milk out, Ive been there....depending on the persons milk supply bc everyone is different but I know im lucky to get 8oz at work in a day....

  12. Anonymous Anonymous | 1:40 PM |  

    This story... is my story, I pray it has a different ending. In my case I will feel blessed if the judge allows me full custody (the ability to breastfeed) until my daughter is one year of age. Please say a prayer for us here in NPR.

  13. Blogger daddy43 | 3:27 PM |  

    I am wanting overnites with my 18 month old son which my ex. says I won't have overnites until he is 2 or 3 years old. he is still breastfeeding and she says it's good for him unfortunately she smokes about 5 or 6 cigaretts daily and I am concern for his health and I believe at 18 months we should start trying overnite with him now rather than an older age where it will be harder for him to adjust. please respond I want what is best for my son and his well being.

  14. Anonymous Anonymous | 9:58 PM |  

    I am breast feeding right now, and no mater what the mother should have the child. The breast suppies the best food for the baby. If the father is willing to comply with the baby and their schedule then let the baby stay eith the mother. If not then then te father should scheck wth the mother to see the differences, either way it is not uo to the parents, its up to the BABY. He, or she needs to eat and the BREAST is the best. Do let the mom and dad thing be adults be adults!!! The baby needs to be healythy DAD br nice to thr mommy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. Anonymous Jacob | 6:18 PM |  

    I believe he child should be able to breast feed when its needed up to 1 year, If the mother isnt smoking, drinking, or nething else that would harm the child. Im a father to be and the mother and I dont get along at all, but i still think the mother should oly get partial custody. The father could spend an hour or two daily or every other day with the child. It would give the child the breastmilk and father time that is needed just as much when the child gets older. If you wait until the child is 1 then the child will probobly have an extreamly hard time adjusting.

  16. Anonymous Anonymous | 3:06 AM |  

    I will say that each situation is different. But most mothers think if I breastfeed, then I will get sole custody of my child. It's so not fair, yes, there are "fathers" who really want to share each moment with their child too! Including the "grandparents", it effect "all" involved. We all so disprutely want to bond with the child. Please step out of the box and try to share the only moments of the childs life that are can't be dupicated. It's heartbreaking. Somehow, learn how to share the loving bond for all involved.

  17. Blogger newmom | 10:33 PM |  

    I'm going through a custody battle right now. Although my 4 month old son spends 4 evenings a week with his father, he maintains he needs overnights to establish himself as a fit parent. I pump two times during each of these visits and he can't fathom how difficult it would be for me to pump for overnight stays. My milk supply is already suffering, due to the overwhelming amount of stress that I could loose primary custody of my son, not to mention that he is lazy to nurse since the bottle is immediate satisfaction. The benefits of breast feeding are undermined by the selfishness of his father. Shouldn't this be about the child's best interests afterall. I'm so sick of these daddy rightsters complaining and interfering with the job that mothers were intended for. He thinks I should be grateful that he's allowed me this much time to breast feed, as if he's given me a gift. Actually, if he could stop trying to win win win, he'd realize that the gift is this miracle of having a baby. Why too is it so hard to understand that I'm giving our son a gift by breast feeding. I won't deny the importance of building a relationship with dad, but this is the time in life when a child needs his mom the most.

  18. Anonymous Anonymous | 1:39 PM |  

    My son is currently in a custody battle with the mother of his child who was born prematurely and spent six weeks in a NICU. During that time, mom breastfed and bottlefed him, now he is home and she is using breastfeeding as an excuse for my son not to have him. My son wants the best for his son and believes that breasmilk is best but mom can pump and dad should have his time with him. Why do the fathers always get the shaft when it comes to their children???????????? it sucks

  19. Anonymous Anonymous | 3:19 PM |  

    Get out of the cave people! Working mothers spend 40-60 hours away from their newborns and use the breastpump. I guess you people think it is better to have the child in a daycare then to be with their own father. Children deserve the right to be with their father, the parents who are not together need to work out a schedule that is in the best interest of the child giving both parents quality time!!

  20. Blogger Janeen | 9:00 AM |  

    Oooh, I'm going to have a hard time being anything but anti-daddy on this one due to my own sister's situation. First of all, if the father walked out, tough, the mom should DEFINITELY get sole custody of the child through the first year unless there is a DEFINITE concern regarding the welfare of the baby being with the mother. If the dad wants to be with the child, he should have stuck around and not walked out on mom. This is my younger sister's situation which is why I'm a bit vocal about it, her husband knocked her up less than a year following her stillbirth and when her pregnancy ended up high risk and she ended up on pelvic rest for much of the pregnancy, he found someone else and then just before the baby was born, decided he didn't want to come back. So now, he wants the baby overnights and days at a time but doesn't want to give the baby breastmilk, wants to give the baby formula even though formula has given the baby problems and formula gave their last child problems that she STILL has. Yeah, not too impressed with this guy.

    Those who say that the child spending time with the dad is actually more important than giving the child breastmilk, sorry, can't agree with you. Considering humans are born, in a sense, nine months to a year early because the size of their heads would be too big to be born if they were allowed to gestate as long as needed, breastmilk is a HUGE part of finishing that gestational period that humans miss out on (only species that are born even earlier are marsupials). Breastmilk contain stem cells which the placenta also contains and therefore, it can be said that breastmilk is similar to the placenta and again, helps finishes the gestational period of the baby. Formula DOES NOT DO THIS! So, to force a child to go on formula in order to be with his/her father, is sort of like forcing the child to be born early. And yeah, many kids do "just fine" but some don't.

    I also have to say I agree with Beth's comments, how is it that two people can love each other enough to make a baby but then turn around and get a divorce before that child is barely even born? It just makes no sense to me and I say that knowing that my own parents did this! If being with both mom and dad is supposedly more beneficial than breastfeeding itself, then it stands to say that the parents staying together and working things out is even more important.

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