Throughout the annals of medicine, a stark reality has been a prevailing pattern: doctors are merely human, after all. They sometimes dispensed bad advice. Doctors do have, though, one vital tool in their armamentarium: education over years of long hours, hard work and hands-on learning. So while any parade of social media gurus can blather on about breastfeeding do’s and don’ts, letting the doctors have a lead in this seems only right. Especially if it can affect your rights to custody and visitation.

The Fraught History of Breastfeeding

Many societies besides ours have dealt with breastfeeding over the centuries. Americans in particular seem to have some serious hang-ups about the topic. Maybe it is the adolescent muddying of the female breast as both nurturing food source and sexual object. Maybe it is the concern that a breastfed baby is too coddled. Slate compiled some interesting (and bad) advice from across the ages, and breastfeeding has been saddled with ideas like this:

“In his 1877 book, Advice to a Wife, Chavasse informed mothers not to nurse for too long. Once the baby was past 9 months of age, nursing could cause “brain disease” in babies and blindness in mothers.”

Before you get all high and mighty over how ignorant we were in 1877 and how “edumacated” we all are now, keep in mind in-laws, parents and even medical professionals still say outrageous things, like “Drinking beer while breastfeeding will help baby sleep.”

What are Dad’s Rights

For a Virginia Dad of a newborn or infant, breastfeeding can become a legal obstacle for child custody and visitation. Many divorcing Moms throw up all sorts of reasons why they alone must have sole physical custody, or limit a father’s parenting time to an absolute minimum, for a nursing child.

Common ploys are:

  • Claiming the baby must nurse for far longer than medical experts feel is healthy
  • Inability to pump and store breastmilk
  • Potential damage to the mother-child relationship by separating the nursing child from the mother for more than a few hours
  • Exaggerating the benefits of breastfeeding so that any compromise appears to endanger the life of the baby

Getting Back to Reality

A father of a newborn or infant child in Virginia can make a valid claim for child custody, though most judges would be more accepting of joint physical custody rather than sole physical custody.

The benefits of breastfeeding are legion, and well documented, but they are not mythic in proportion. Thousands of children have thrived and grown exclusively on formula, while the supposed benefits (smarter children, healthier babies, more serene mothers) do not always hold up to scientific scrutiny, according to experts at Medical News Today.

Is there an Age Limit to Breastfeeding?

The American Academy of Pediatrics, it is true, places no upper age limit on breastfeeding, it also recommends “exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced, with continuation of breastfeeding for 1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant.”

That “mutual desire,” hard as it may be for some women to accept, may actually terminate by the baby’s choosing well before the first year is over, and certainly as the child becomes socially conscious in the first two years or so.

A wise Virginia father hoping to secure either joint physical custody or generous child visitation arrangements for a breastfeeding child should be prepared to counter myth and hyperbole with scientific, admissible evidence (through your lawyer, of course).

For every claim that a four-year-old is perfectly healthy still suckling at Mom’s breast because a self-promoting informal league of women say so, your lawyer must counter with  actual medical advice to ensure the judge has real facts, not just hearsay, for a ruling.

Unwise Moves in Breastfeeding

For some situations, breastfeeding can actually be harmful to either child or mother. If the mother is known to abuse drugs or alcohol, the child’s father could be upholding the “best interests of the child” by petitioning for sole physical custody.

Similarly, an unhealthy mother who needs prescription medications may not be able to breastfeed without potentially harming the child. In both cases, formula (though admittedly not a top choice) is a suitable alternative, and can be provided by a loving father as readily as by the mother. Any unwise moves to falsely promote the universal magic bullet of breastfeeding when a particular case may actually harm the child should be countered vigorously by your attorney.

While many Virginia judges reflexively defer to the breastfeeding mother, it is vital that you and your lawyer protect your child if that very breastfeeding could harm the baby. Nothing in Virginia law compels a judge to award sole child custody to a breastfeeding mother merely because she is breastfeeding.

We Fight for Fathers’ Rights

The Firm For Men, at 757-383-9184, does not set itself up as experts in neonatal care, breastfeeding, or child rearing. We do, however, know Virginia family law. We defend fathers’ rights, which includes the right to petition a court for physical custody of a man’s child, even if that child is still breastfeeding. Solutions exist. We find them. Contact us online or stop by our Virginia Beach office today.