A Virginia mom has been ordered by a judge to stop breastfeeding her 6-month-old daughter and instead “make every effort” to bottle-feed in order to accommodate a bitter custody agreement with the dad.
Arleta Ramirez has been breastfeeding her daughter since she was born in July and had also breastfed her older son for two years, the Washington Post reported.
But after Ramirez and her ex-husband, Mike Ridgway, split, the dad complained about breastfeeding “interfering” with his time with the children.
“Mother is to make every effort to place the child on a feeding schedule and use a bottle,” a Prince William County judge wrote Nov. 28 in an order that allows Ridgway to visit the baby four days a week ahead of overnight visits to begin in February.
Ridgway was complaining that his daughter’s feeding times were interfering with his visits, but Ramirez agrees with the assessment by experts that “breast is best” – and she also had trouble pumping milk, according to the publication.
Ramirez, who said they baby initially rejected bottles, is preparing evidence for a hearing in April from breastfeeding experts as well as a letter from her pediatrician explaining that she is exclusively breastfed.
“Why are they forcing me to stop breastfeeding?” she told the Washington Post. “Isn’t that her right? Isn’t that in her best interest?”
Ridgway told the outlet in an email that he had given Ramirez “space to both nurse and to pump milk for me to bottle-feed our daughter while she is in my care.”
He added: “Past the age of 6 months I will continue to support breastfeeding and bottle-feeding our daughter breast milk as much as possible, while also supplementing with formula only when absolutely necessary.”
Ridgway’s attorney, Tara Steinnerd, accused the mom of trying to use breastfeeding “as a weapon.”
“They come up with a myriad of excuses,” Steinnerd said, referring to women who refuse to pump. “It’s about using breastfeeding as a weapon against visitation.”
Stephanie Bodak Nicholson, president of La Leche League’s USA Council, said she has received at least one call every year about breastfeeding during custody disputes.
“It’s definitely something we get calls on. It’s frequent enough that we keep it on our radar,” she told the paper.
La Leche is a non-profit that supports and trains new moms on their breastfeeding journey. The organization offers emotional support and tips, but not legal advice in the matter.
Meghan Boone, an associate professor at the Wake Forest University School of Law who studies pregnancy and parenting rights, said the notion that only women can care for young children has been discredited because men seeking custody may argue that it is sex discrimination.“You’re not supposed to use the ‘tender years’ doctrine anymore. If we’re talking about the need for child to be with mom and not dad, that sounds like tender years,” Boone told the Washington Post.
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