Breastfeeding Used As An Excuse To Keep Babies Away From Fathers

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Nursing infants should be able to spend quality time, including overnights, with their fathers. Yet some mothers try to use nursing as an excuse to block contact between infants and their dads. Courts should be fully aware that there are plentiful means to ensure a good supply of breast milk for use by fathers caring for infants.

Robert Franklin of Fathers & Families recently penned the posting Expert: No Conflict Between Breastfeeding and Shared Parenting about an article from a breastfeeding advocate who claims fathers are trying to assert in court that breastfeeding is inappropriate behavior:

(Breastfeeding Court Letter, by Katherine A Dettwyler, Ph.D., Anthropology)

In addition, my research has been used to counter charges of child abuse and “inappropriate parenting behaviors” in many court cases, especially involving divorce and custody disputes, where fathers may accuse the mother of “inappropriate parenting by virtue of extended breastfeeding” as a strategy to gain custody of children, or may simply claim that ‘continued breastfeeding’ is not relevant to shared custody arrangements.

At this point (2005), all of the research that has been conducted on the health and cognitive consequences of different lengths of breastfeeding shows steadily increasing benefits the longer a child is breastfed up to the age of 2 years, and no negative consequences. No research has been conducted on the physical, emotional, or psychological health of children breastfed longer than 2 years. Thus, while there is no research-based proof that breastfeeding a child for 3 years provides statistically significant health or cognitive benefits compared to breastfeeding a child for only two years, there is no research to show that breastfeeding a child for 3 years (or 4-5-6-7-8-9 years) causes any sort of physical, psychological or emotional harm to the child. This has recently been confirmed in the 2005 American Academy of Pediatrics “Recommendations for breastfeeding the healthy term infant” (see below).


Like Robert Franklin, I’ve never heard of a father claiming that breastfeeding is a problem. On the contrary, many fathers support it and work with their children’s mothers, even if they are divorced, to ensure that the babies will be fed human breast milk when available. As there are many excellent breast pumps on the market today and everybody has freezers and can learn how to reheat breast milk in hot water (not a microwave — that damages beneficial proteins in the milk and reheats unevenly), shared parenting for nursing infants is entirely workable.

Some malicious mothers, the sort who think parental alienation is a great way to treat the kids and ex, like to pretend that shared parenting can’t work because fathers don’t have breasts. They claim that babies need to be with their mothers at all times, certainly never without them for longer than a couple of hours, because baby wants mommy’s breasts and can’t be healthy without them. As much as they would like to convince others that this is true, it is not at all. Baby needs both parents and being with daddy doesn’t mean that baby can’t continue to benefit from mommy’s milk.

(Breastfeeding Court Letter, by Katherine A Dettwyler, Ph.D., Anthropology)

It is quite feasible for divorced parents to work out shared custody or visitation arrangements that allow the father to have ample time with his child while not sacrificing the breastfeeding relationship the child has with its mother. There is no reason why the child cannot have close relationships with both parents, including spending substantial amounts of time with both, without weaning having to take place before the child is ready.

Moms Say Dad’s Lack of Breasts Should Limit Time With Baby

Newborn baby nursing

In one particularly nasty custody battle, the mother’s attorney argued how an almost one year old child was still nursing and therefore father should not be able to see the child for more than a few hours at a time. The judge, a woman, didn’t agree with that argument. She was very vehement about shutting down that argument right away as she knew how ridiculous and sexist it was.

As it turns out, in that case, the mom had previously pumped vast quantities of breast milk, filling a freezer with a half-year supply. So it’s clear she knew about breast pumps and was able to use them.

Make no mistake, this case is on the extreme side and this mom was extremely malicious. She had already resorted to false domestic violence accusations and when those didn’t work, moved on to false child sexual abuse allegations. Obviously this mom had no interest in being a reasonable co-parent.

The father knew exactly how to reheat frozen human milk properly (letting it melt in hot water, not microwaving it, and then using a baby bottle warmer appliance to finish warming it up) and feed the baby with a bottle. He’d been doing it for the baby’s entire life, since before the prematurely born child was even able to nurse directly. Yet despite all the protestations that daddy time would hurt the baby’s health due to lack of mom’s milk, mom never once provided pumped breast milk to the father from the time of separation all the way to when the baby was weaned around two years old.

Instead, mom wanted to make arrangements to interfere with his time with the baby to directly nurse the baby. He allowed this for a time, until she repeatedly created disruptive incidents in which she claimed she would nurse the baby then wouldn’t get around to it until an hour or more later. It was clear that breastfeeding for this mom was about her, not about the baby’s needs.

Moms Need More Vitamin D and Omega-3 For Best Quality Breast Milk

For you moms out there breastfeeding your babies, whether you are divorced or married, human milk is often deficient in certain important nutrients precisely because mothers fail to take good care of themselves. For starters, many mothers fail to get adequate vitamin D and DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid) in their diets as their prenatal vitamins lack adequate quantities of vitamin D and often don’t have any omega-3 fatty acids including DHA and EPA. Their babies desperately need these nutrients for proper brain and immune system development but are not getting them because mommy isn’t doing her job well enough.

Perhaps what the fathers should be asking the courts to do when mothers try to make an issue of breastfeeding is to order the mothers to take vitamin D and fish oil or other omega-3 supplements daily and to provide pumped and frozen breast milk when turning over the babies to the fathers. Deficiencies in these nutrients are tied to a variety of developmental and mental health problems that have become increasing common in recent decades as people slather on sunscreen and factory-farmed beef no longer has much omega-3 fatty acid content. Nearly every pregnant and nursing mother should be consuming 2000 IU or more (possibly much more — some women may need upwards of 7000 IU per day!) of vitamin D3 and 600mg or more of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids on a daily basis to ensure that her breast milk will have adequate nutrition for the baby.

Now those orders would truly be in baby’s best interests.

(from Typical American diet short on omega-3 fatty acids)

The March, 2008 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that the typical North American diet fails to provide adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, leaving infants at risk of impaired neurological development.

Sheila M. Innes and Russell W. Friesen of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver assigned 135 pregnant women to a placebo or a daily omega-3 fatty acid supplement equivalent to two fatty fish meals per week, beginning with their 16th week of gestation until delivery. The women’s blood was tested for levels of the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) at the 16th and 36th weeks. DHA plays an important role in brain and eye function, and is essential for the neurological development of unborn children.

Following their birth, the infants were evaluated for neurological maturity using vision tests. The investigators discovered that women who consumed large quantities of meat and low amounts of fish had omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies. Children of these women failed to perform as well on the eye tests as infants born to mothers who were not deficient. The duo plans to follow the development of the children until they are four years old.

“Omega 3 fatty acids are important for the baby’s developing eyes and brain,” explained Dr Innis, who is a professor at the University of British Columbia’s department of pediatrics. “During pregnancy and breastfeeding, fat consumed by the mum is transferred to the developing baby and breastfed infant, and this fat is important for the baby’s developing organs. Our next task is to find out why the typical North American diet puts mothers at risk. Then we can develop dietary recommendations to help women consume a nutritious diet that promotes optimal health for mums and babies.”

You may note that vitamin D guidelines are all over the map. The RDA is woefully outdated as current research shows that vitamin D deficiency is widespread and cannot be avoided for most people without taking at least 2000 IU per day of vitamin D. Please see my previous article Adjusting Your Vitamin D Intake to Optimal Levels for more details.


How Long Does Breast Milk Last In Storage

It is best to be feeding baby relatively fresh breast milk. While many sources state “freshly frozen” human milk can last at least 4-6 and possibly as much as 12 months in its frozen state, the antibody content of the milk won’t be as finely tuned to the current needs of the baby as milk that is just a few days or a couple of weeks old. That’s because mothers tend to develop antibodies for whatever immune system challenges are encountered and this is part of why human milk is great for babies.

Refrigerated milk doesn’t last nearly as long, and refreezing thawed milk in generally not recommended. Therefore moms who are up to the job will be interested in freezing their milk for dad and other care providers to use in baby-sized quantities of a few ounces at a time, based upon baby’s typical appetite, so as to not waste the milk and to make it more convenient to prepare for feeding via bottle.

Pumping Can Be Good For Mom, Too

Finally, having mom pump on days when she doesn’t have baby is good for her, too. It helps keep up her milk supply and keep her metabolism going to get back to pre-pregnancy weight. Even a narcissistic mom should be able to appreciate that.

Hospital Grade Pumps Work Much Better

If mom has trouble getting consumer-grade breast pumps to work well, split the cost of a rental of a hospital grade pump. They are vastly more effective and can be rented (see the links below) for around $200 to $350 per six months or around $2 to $3 per day. If you’ll be using these for more than six months, consider buying a pump. You can buy a used hospital grade pump for around $500 or a new one for around $800. Moms and dads, just going ahead and doing this could be cheaper than even discussing it in court with $200 to $400 per hour lawyers on both sides. Note that consumable supplies add additional cost, so split those, too.

Finally, for those dads who really want to show they are willing to cooperate to ensure baby’s health, supply the vitamin D3 and fish oil so baby will be getting optimally nutritious mother’s milk. A year’s supply adequate for most women is less than $100, even half that with careful shopping for quality brands.

Further Reading

Selecting An Omega-3 Fat or Fish Oil Supplement

Omega-3 Fatty Acids Increase Brain Volume While Reversing Many Aspects of Neurologic Aging

Breastfeeding, Divorce and Custody Issues

Storing Pumped Breastmilk

Storing and Transporting Breast Milk

Proper Handling and Storage of Human Milk

How long does frozen breastmilk last?

How to Collect, Store, and Freeze Breast Milk

Choosing a breast pump

Breastpump and Baby Scale Rentals

Breast Pump Rentals

About Hospital Grade Breast Pumps

Nutritional Problems May Lead to Higher Risk of Autism

Higher Vitamin D Levels Improve Weight Loss and Health

Omega-3 Fish Oil and Pregnancy

Guidelines for Vitamins and Minerals


These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products mentioned in this post are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

  1. Kay Abela
    October 28th, 2010 at 12:36 | #1

    Quite a sarcastic article all around I thought, but I feel it needs a bit of a response seeing as I’m a mother who breastfed our child for the first five years of his life, despite being separated from his father since our child was three months old.

    And, guess what? I’m not malicious or narcissistic and could never get a breast pump to work – despite literally dozens of hours trying. But what I am is a great co-parent. Sure it took some time to work things out but my ex and I are the best of friends, and that’s partially due to breastfeeding.

    Despite his early resistence (or should I say his lawyer’s resistence) my ex agreed literally minutes before court to basically split shifts of seeing our child, with breastfeeding to sleep in between. He was aware of my inability to pump milk as I had spent several weeks very ill in hospital, so no, not even the hospital pumps could get it going but our son could. Because of this same illness, our very young baby became quickly used to breastfeeding to sleep and co-sleeping, because of my inability to move out of bed with him for the several weeks. Luckily, my ex turned out to be an understanding guy after all and we have continued that way for all these years.

    The reason I attribute part of our (now) friendship to breastfeeding is that during the midday gap in their time together, when I would then breastfeed our child, my ex was waiting in our home – watching tele, reading, or having a nap himself. The fact that he was there and basically saw that what went on was all as I said (no delaying tactics, the baby really did breastfeed then sleep for hours etc) helped foster a trust between us. All this despite his lawyer pushing for overnights from six months old and Australian courts starting from a 50/50 standpoint in such matters.

    All that and more. I respect the father for allowing our son to continue to breastfeed. He respects me for breastfeeding our child while continuing to allow them to have a great relationship. By the way, my ex has never had our child overnight. That’s okay as well because he is welcome to stay in my guest room whenever he wants (last time was a month ago for two weeks). We’re very happy to be such facilitating and co-operative parents for the sake of our son.

    Another good by-product is that the ex’s lawyer got me so worked up over his manipulation of our client contrary to agreements we had made, that I have now just finished a law degree so that I can offer people alternatives rather than just be money-hungry for court fees. And, yes, my ex is very proud of me and happy that I’ve done that for myself and our child.

    • October 28th, 2010 at 18:43 | #2

      Kay,

      Congratulations on being a reasonable co-parent! This article wasn’t written with you in mind, although I do hope some of the nutritional tips might be useful for nursing mothers.

      Breast-feeding a child for 5 years is not a common behavior. Breast-feeding a one or two year old baby isn’t so uncommon, but wasn’t it very difficult to be breast-feeding a 5 year old between all the teeth and the social issues?

      Perhaps your comment will help some mothers who may be tempted to play the breast-feeding excuse card for alienation to instead simply try to co-parent the baby and work out a schedule so that the baby can benefit from breast-feeding and lots of time with both parents. It may also help parents to understand that lawyers often do not represent their clients, they instead incite and aggravate conflict that badly hurts the entirely family.

      In the case I mentioned in the article, the father tried to support the breast feeding, too, even though the baby was already more than a year old. Even his attempts to do this were abused. It took hours of his limited time with the baby away, and the mother was unwilling to reciprocate to make up for this. He repeatedly found that when he returned to pick up the baby, the mother hadn’t breast-feed yet even though that had been her stated intention. What the mother was doing wasn’t about breast-feeding, it was about her emotional and mental health issues and parental alienation. Her behaviors regarding breast-feeding were just the tip of the iceberg given her malicious false accusations of child sexual abuse which she used to obtain sole custody of the children and put the father on no contact and supervised visitation. When it was proven she lied, by then a lot of damage had already been done to the children and the father.

      Unless you have experience interacting with people like this, you may find it hard to believe what they will do to hurt another person and hurt their children in the process.

      I’m glad to hear you are not such a person, and again, hope that your story will help get other parents to co-parent rather than engage in parental alienation, warring with each other, and feeding the divorce industry monster.

      Alison

  2. Brittany
    April 2nd, 2011 at 21:21 | #3

    So im guessing you have breastfed and never had any supply issues and have successfully pumped several ounce AFTER feeding your infant so that you could have milk stored in your freezer? Because otherwise you have no business writing this article. I have had supply issues due to a returning menstrual cycle (returned at 7 weeks postpartum) and have had serious supply issues for the past 3 months. I am taking fenugreek and other herbs at maximum dosage per day, calcium/magnesium supplements, drinking mothers milk tea 3x/day, taking my prenatal vitamins with omega 3, drinking Whole milk fortified with vitamin D, and even a prescription (Domperidone) to increase my supply. I am lucky to get 2-3oz out at each pumping session and my 6 month old son drinks 6-8oz out of a bottle. I dont have a supply of milk in my freezer because on the nights when i dont have enough milk at breast for my son he gets any stored milk i have. Even at missed feedings i can pump a maximum of 4oz to store for later, not to mention breast milk is used in his baby cereal so that he gets enough calories each day. So I’d love to know how the court could order me to do any more than i am already doing (even the IBCLC has said i am doing everything i can. Did i mention i eat oatmeal at least once a day as well?) I still would have no milk to send with my ex and therefore i will not let him take our son until he is 1yr of age.
    Not to mention my ex (we will call him Bob) would have no idea how to warm a bottle of breastmilk. Once, when i had to supplement with formula i had Bob make our son a bottle and he tried to microwave it after he has been told repeatedly you cannot do that with either. I said “you can burn his throat!” and he said “not if i shake it up first”. The only help Bob has given me since our son was born was changing a few wet diapers and holding him for 20-30min if he is freaking out and i need to recompose myself before coming back to calm him myself. He never gets up at night with the baby. He has never in his life changed a poopy diaper (not just hasnt, REFUSES and comes to get me (wonder what he’s do if our son pooped while he was staying with him??)). He has never watched our son without me there for more than 1hr. He doesnt have any experience caring for a baby on his own. There is no way i would ever let him have the baby for unsupervised visits, let alone overnight. There is no reason he cannot come over here to see him. And i thank god that i DO breastfeed so i can ‘use that as an excuse’ as you say because if my son were formula fed im sure the courts would order overnight visitation without ever even considering what i say about Bob’s lack of ability to care for our son by himself. Bob could say that he was perfectly capable of taking care of him and theyd probably believe it. If only you knew what it was like. Then maybe youd keep crappy, naive opinions like this to yourself. Yes, in some cases maybe the mother is abusing it. But rights for the father? What about rights for the mother who simply wants the best for her child. Its people like you and articles like this that are going to give my babies father the idea that he has some control over this situation when he absolutely shouldnt. Thanks a lot.

  3. Vanessa M. Gajdos Bostic
    September 5th, 2012 at 12:09 | #4

    I support breastfeeding, until a certain age, I do not support a child with black teeth at the age of 8 and for her and her mothers security at night she breastfeeds, all so the mother can hold the from the father, also the mother having another child whom is going on 3, and is not a breastfed child, but her father has never been in that childs life, so I truly believe this mother is using the the breast bond to keep a wedge between father and daughter, not caring about how it will effect her health, teeth, and emotional state of mind in her future!, so for some parents it is okay to bond and give those extra vitamins, but in some cases some parents are just using it as a tool, and I think this should be evaluated again by the american health association and should be set guidelines on breastfeeding!

  4. Concerned Woman
    October 7th, 2012 at 19:08 | #5

    The problem with articles like these is they allow men to use breastfeeding to falsely accuse women of parental alienation. It’s actually NOT good for a child to be separated from their primary caregiver for long periods of time. Most visitation and custody agreements are set up based on age of the child and the relationship between the parents and the child, regardless of breastfeeding. Indeed, unless the parents have contributed 50/50 to care and are BFFs, a slow step up visitation is recommended. Let’s be honest, women are the primary care givers for infants, and care is generally split 80/20. How many couples are BFfs immediately after breaking up? My DDs father and I are, but it took more than a decade to get there. We had an amicable break up.

    My infant refuses a bottle. I’ve worked with him nonstop since paternity was established at 1.5mos. He hates it. Show him a bottle and he screams. I will NOT STARVE HIM INTO SUBMISSION. Do you have any idea how mug it sucks to not be able to lose your job over a baby who won’t take a bottle? You think his father should get overnights when he doesn’t sleep through the night, and wakes starving? Breastfeeding as alienation is more claimed by jealous insecure fathers than vindictive, caustic mothers. Oh, and check your research. Freezing breast milk degrades it. Using it more than a month later makes the antibodies useless.

  5. Erica
    September 6th, 2013 at 18:06 | #6

    Allison:

    I found your article very interesting. I need assistance from an expert on the topic of breastfeeding newborns for a custody dispute for one of my client’s. Are you a doctor? Please let me know how if I can get into touch with you to discuss.

    Thank you,

    Erica

  6. simone
    September 16th, 2013 at 23:48 | #7

    Thank you for posting.

    Very informative.

    Simone

  7. Marisol
    July 2nd, 2016 at 19:47 | #8

    I didn’t keep reading the article because the first sentence is a lie. You don’t need to read past the first sentence. Nursing infants should not spend overnights with the father. They are nursing infants. It is a fact that a baby has a right to its mothers milk, should she choose to lactate. It also has the right to breastfeed. Milk and breastfeeding are not the same thing. Milk is the optimal nutrition and breastfeeding is a parenting method. This actually comforts baby from a fit, pain etc cetera. People treat breastfeeding as if it’s an alternative to “normal” bottlefeeding. Bottle feeding isn’t normal. It’s abnormal and inferior. I can’t help it is abnormal has been made more popular.

    It was your choice to leave before the baby weaned. That’s also abnormal and unfatherly. You should be able to tolerate anything for a temporary time.

  8. A Reader
    July 3rd, 2016 at 23:18 | #9

    @Marisol You trash the article with your own distortions. It argues that mom can pump breast milk and dad can feed it to the baby. And it talks about a case in which this is exactly what the parents had been doing, until mom decided to leave and then tried to play the “daddy can’t see baby because he/she is breast feeding” card and then showed her true colors by not providing any for the father to feed the baby. If it was good enough for mom before she decided to leave with the children, then why was it not good enough afterward?

    Also, you make the sexist assumption that it was the father who left the family. What about the mothers who leave despite those fathers who were trying to work out the issues in the family?

    What about the child’s right to significant time with both parents?

    The article also rightly points out that many mothers have a poor diet and their breast milk is of inferior quality and they should do something about improving it.

    Babies being fed a healthy diet and in a healthy environment don’t tend to have crying fits and the other problems you claim breastfeeding is required to manage.

    The fact is that many (most?) babies are introduced to food beyond breast milk by around 6 months old. Further, not every feeding has to include breast milk and that is particularly the case as the baby gets older.

    Your whole reply is the sort of sexist nonsense that aims to deny baby time with father by making up a bunch of nonsensical arguments showing that you didn’t bother to read the article.

  9. Tony R
    November 12th, 2016 at 07:23 | #10

    Has anyone gone to court regarding the issue above? I live in Indiana and my daughter is almost 7 months old now and her mother and I separated when my daughter was 4.5 months old. When we were together, my ex never had an issue with milk supply and would even wake me up in the middle of the night complaining about “gorged breasts.” We would do a little bit of storing milk but most of the time my ex just breastfed. There had been several occasions however when we had given my daughter formula and she took it just fine. After separation my ex moved back to her hometown an hour and a half away. For the last several weeks I have driven up at least once a week sometimes twice to spend only 3 hours with my daughter in my ex’s hometown which just breaks my heart because I was a part of all her daily activities like bottle feeding, baths, reading to her, going on walks, rocking her to sleep, basically everything mom was doing. Since separation my ex has refused to meet halfway and do any form of exchanges or give me overnights (Indiana guidelines give 24 hours a week to non-custodial parent if parent was active in child’s life prior to separation). Within the last couple of weeks she has given me 4 hours of visitation in her hometown which just sucks because its not conducive for the child to be spending visitation time in coffee shops, antique shops, Walmart, etc. especially now that its cold and we are constantly moving from place to place. Basically I just browse around places with my daughter for 4 hours. Its a very sad situation and I have done nothing wrong. I hired a lawyer and the legal process is taking forever but we do have a hearing set in December. Basically my ex is saying she can’t produce enough milk to give me for overnights or extended periods of time. However that had never been an issue. We had a $300 Medella pump that she took back with her after separation and apparently she has not been using it and instead has “donated” it to someone else shortly after our separation!?? In lieu of that she says she has been using a manual pump that we also purchased together however the manual pump wasn’t as effective as the electric double pump was obviously. Upon hearing that she hasn’t been using an electric pump to stimulate milk production (increases lactosin levels, the hormone that produces more milk), I just went out and bought her another one. I doubt she will use it but I want the court to know that I am doing everything I can to promote breast milk feeding and also have never missed a week to see her. My ex keeps going back and forth on whether she is willing to come to the table. I even wrote out a great proposal for her because she was ready to talk about it but then just turned it away and says she’s going to try and fight the issue in court. Since the hearing isn’t until mid December I have to spend Thanksgiving in a hotel for 3 hours because thats the only place that will be open (I now what you’re thinking, “why don’t you just go to her place?” We do NOT have a very amicable relationship especially given the situation). I keep bringing up to her that she isn’t being fair to myself and also my daughter who saw her daddy every day and was a a staple in her life to now only twice a week for a few hours. She knows I am an awesome dad and has stated it on several occasions even after the separation however still meets me with resistance on every turn. What should I expect in the hearing itself?

  1. August 28th, 2010 at 02:34 | #1

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