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Friday, March 13, 2015

Attachment Parenting and Breastfeeding vs. Father Who Wants Custody

Attachment Parenting.  Breastfeeding.  Co-sleeping.

These concepts are often used as a double-edged sword in family court.  As often as mothers will hurl these words to deprive fathers of visitation, fathers will similarly contort images of abnormal needy behaviors that need to be quashed in order to deprive mothers.

Abraham Lincoln once said, "I destroy my enemy when I make him my friend."

In a high-conflict case, these concepts should be closely examined/embraced to promote mutual understanding and achieve favorable results.

What is Attachment Parenting?

Attachment parenting was invented by pediatrician William Sears.  It is a parenting style based on the belief that the emotional bonding of a young child with a caregiver carried lifelong benefits and consequences.  Sensitive and emotionally available parenting helps the child to form a secure attachment style which fosters a child's socio-emotional development and well-being. Less sensitive and emotionally unavailable parenting or neglect of the child's needs may result in insecure forms of attachment style, which is a risk factor for many mental health problems (e.g. depression, anxiety and eating disorders.) In extreme and rare conditions, the child may not form an attachment at all and may suffer from reactive attachment disorder - one extreme form being conduct disorder. Conduct disorder is a severe condition characterized by hostile and sometimes physically violent behavior and a disregard for others. Children with CD exhibit cruelty, from early pushing, hitting and biting to, later, more than normal teasing and bullying, hurting animals, picking fights, theft, vandalism, and arson.

The Baby Book by William and Martha Sears, sometimes referred to as the 'Bible of attachment parenting', gives practical attachment parenting advice in the form of the following ‘seven baby B’s of attachment parenting’:

* Birth bonding: The first few hours after birth are regarded as very important to promote attachment.

* Belief in the signal value of your baby’s cries: Parents are encouraged to learn to understand their baby’s cries and respond quickly and appropriately to them.

* Breastfeeding: This is regarded to have physical and psychological advantages to both mother and child.

* Babywearing: The term was first used by Dr. Sears and it means carrying the baby in a sling or other carrier, close to the body of the caregiver.

* Bedding close to baby: Sleeping in the same room and preferably in the same bed as the baby is encouraged, as is frequent (breast)feeding at night.

* Balance and boundaries: Appropriate responsiveness (knowing when to say yes and when to say no) is needed to keep a healthy family alive.

* Beware of baby trainers: Instead of taking advice about how to ‘train’ the baby to make it cry less and sleep for longer stretches, parents are encouraged to listen to their own instinct and intuition.

According to attachment parenting advocates this advice helps parents to respond quickly and sensitively to their baby’s needs, thus facilitating development of secure attachment.

With any theory, there are boatloads of criticism.  The biggest one is that it's not science-based.  It can best be described as an "art", not "science".  It's too demanding and raises needy children.  Google it - you'll find bajillions of articles against it.  My favorite is "Babies are Assholes: The Problem with Attachment Parenting".

Attachment parenting is not a strict set of rules.  A full-time work-out-of-the-home mom can be an attachment parent as much as a stay-at-home mom.

Attachment parenting usually refers to the baby's attachment to one parent - usually the mom. It is true that babies benefit from attachments to both parents.  But in the earlier years, the focus is on the primary caretaker's bond.

How Long Should One Breastfeed?

It's now widely accepted that "breast is best".  

In the U.S., the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends babies be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months.  Then, from 6 mo - 1 year, continuing to breastfeed while introducing solid foods. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) also recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, and then continued up to age 2 and over.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), believes that breastfeeding should continue until the child is two years or older.

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months and warns: “If the child is younger than two years of age, the child is at increased risk of illness if weaned.

Breastfeeding is an infant's natural way of feeding upon birth.  All humans and mammals alike give birth and nurse their young.  Breastmilk from the mother is uniquely superior to any other form of nourishment.  "Breast milk is widely acknowledged as the most complete form of nutrition for infants, with a range of benefits for infants' health, growth, immunity and development."
-- Healthy People 2010, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia.

Besides fighting infection, lower rates of childhood obesity, better brain development, decreased allergies and asthma are all linked with breastmilk. Breastfed children are 50% more likely to get sick during their first year of life.  Human breastmilk contains living antibodies.  Formula does not come close to this "liquid gold".

Breastfeeding also benefits the mother.  Women who breastfeed have a lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Most importantly, breastfeeding is bonding.  Upon birth, babies come out "rooting" - the suckling instinct that defies science - where did they learn this?  As soon as they come out, they have a need to suck.  And the suckling is what brings in the milk - what turns only drops of colostrum into buttery white breastmilk.

The Centers of Disease Control puts out an annual "Breastfeeding Report Card" (see 2014).  In California, 92.8% of women have breastfed.  However, only 63.1% are still breastfeeding at 6 months; and only 38.4% are still breastfeeding at 12 months.

If all agencies encourage 1-2 years, who are the numbers so low? Amongst new moms, common stressors include production of breastmilk; latching; fearing baby isn't eating enough.  It is very important for breastfeeding moms to receive all the support they need to encourage breastfeeding.

For those who don't breastfeed, it is important to understand the mechanics.  Unlike breathing or eating, breastfeeding is rarely instinctive.  The first couple of days after birth (sometimes up to a week), the body only produces colostrum, a gold gel-like substance.  Though it appears scarce, the baby's needs are entirely met by this gel until the milk comes in.  The body has its own regulating mechanism - it will produce as much as the baby needs.  So in the beginning, for milk production and sufficient nourishment, it is essential for babies to be breastfed at least every 2 hours, or on demand (per attachment parenting).  Babies that are breastfed on demand will never overeat (common problem with formula babies).  And, if fed on demand, they should never be hungry.

Some may suggest pumping milk to provide for the father.  If this is possible, then it's a good solution.  However, a lot of women cannot produce milk with the pump, because it is the baby's skin-on-skin that draws out the milk.  Also, some babies will refuse to take milk from a bottle.  Some women report that pumping decreased their production, leading to babies' early weaning.

If the breastfeeding relationship is to be protected, it is important that mother and child not be separated for lengthy periods (2-4 hours).  Some babies will refuse bottle to wait for mommy's milk, so they will go hungry until breastfed.

Breastmilk (both for physical health and emotional bonding) should be a priority in the early months.  Even into toddler years, studies have shown that breastmilk contains more concentrated quantities of antibodies, and will continue to protect the child.  Once the child has started solids, they can go for longer periods without the breastmilk, however, for bonding purposes, lengthy times away from mom should develop over time, and after adequate bonding with another childcare provider (father, babysitter, daycare, etc.).

How Can a Father Get Custody when Mother is Attachment Parenting and Breastfeeding?

For a father seeking custody in the early months, all is not lost.

You know now that Attachment and Breastfeeding are in the child's "best interests".

After educating yourself, set reasonable expectations.  Just because the mom is breastfeeding, doesn't mean you don't get any custody.  You can have joint physical custody, with increasing periods of time.

Learn all there is to learn about babies.  For example, they sleep a lot.  During the early months, they sleep 16-18 hours a day.  During this time, it is not reasonable to request 50-50 custody.  They are asleep.

I encourage my clients who are fathers to keep in close communications with the mother (as much as practicable).  Through the mother, you can learn the sleeping/waking habits.  If you are nearby, you can visit the baby during the waking hours.  For amicable couples, this is possible.  However, most custody cases are high-conflict and contentious.  Sometimes the father fears the mother will move out of state. The best thing to do is to make sure that you file a case so the automatic temporary restraining orders will kick in.  Next, you must gingerly serve the papers.  Rather than instilling fear, I recommend alerting the mom that a case has been started with a nice letter stating you are seeking custodial time, but in increasing increments, and to the needs of the child.

If the mother is refusing any sort of visitation, I advise setting the case for mediation before filing any Request for Order for Custody.  This is required by the courts, and will be received better.

I strenuously advise against any sort of custody litigation during the first year of the baby's life.  Even more so if the baby is breastfeeding.

If the mom is still breastfeeding after age 1 - or 18 months, and still refusing overnight visits, this would be an appropriate time to inquire into getting more through legal action, if the below tips are unsuccessful.

How to Craft a Reasonable Visitation Plan Around Breastfeeding and Attachment Parenting

A reasonable plan should look at some of these factors:

1.  What is the father's relationship with the child?  If the baby was born after the parties separated, then this will require a longer step-up increased custodial time than if the couple separated when the baby was 1.  If the father lived close to the mother, and was able to visit every day for a few hours, this would allow for more rapid increased schedule as the child grows.  Here, in Los Angeles County, the court posts a "model parenting plan" for children under 3.  The Court suggests from birth to 6 months, 3 non-consecutive days visits for up to 2 hours each to the non-custodial parent, increasing to 3 non-consecutive day visits for up to 3 hours each from 7 months - 12 months, and overnights if appropriate.

This is just a suggestion.  Studies have shown that overnights for children under age 2 with a parent they have not bonded with, can be stressful.  Also, it is essential that overnights are worked up to - that is, the father has spent frequent and continuing times throughout the weeks with the child, gradually increasing time as the bond grows.

2.  What is the mother's relationship with the child? A stay-at-home mom who is breastfeeding on demand and co-sleeping will have a different relationship that the working mom who returned to her 9-5 job after 12 weeks of maternity leave.  In the latter, she may still be breastfeeding when she returns home.  However, if she is pumping milk to give to her nanny during the day, then she can certainly do the same with the father during the day.

Does the mom cosleep or does baby sleep in a crib in his own room?  In the former, overnights would probably not be feasible when the child is not age 2.

How long has the child been away from mom?  Has grandma watched her for a weekend while she was on a girls' trip?  Or does mother Ergo the baby all day, for naps and to run errands?

3.  What are the parties' desired parenting plans in the future?  Is it mom's desire to keep dad out of baby's life until age 10?  Is it dad's desire to have 50-50 the day after baby turns 3?

Children benefit best from two loving parents.  Child-rearing was never meant to be a single person's job; it takes a village.

Often, the mom's distrust and gatekeeping causes the father's irresponsibility and eventual "giving up" on the system, causing the child to lose the support and love from one parent.  This harms the children.  More love, not less, is in their "best interests".

Sometimes the moms are the perpetrators - immediately getting into a relationship with a new man; moving as far away as possible to "alienate" the father.   This also harms the children.  Knowing their legacy, and who their father is, is in their "best interests".

Ideal World

In the ideal world, family court litigants foster nothing but love and understanding for their babies, and the other parent.  In this world, moms who want to breastfeed are not blamed for a child's development issues, and not mocked for cosleeping with older kids.  In this world, dads who want to be involved can see the children and spend nights at the moms house until the child is comfortable at his house.

I have a dream that one day, the parents of beautiful babies - though separated, can be in the same room so babies can bond with both and still have a special attachment to their one primary caregiver.

Family law attorneys and Judges have a duty to educate themselves in this area, so no mother is forced to wean a child too early, so no child is forcibly "detached" from their primary caregiver, so no father is deprived of bonding in favor of breastfeeding.

Reality is far from my dream.  I end with unaltered excerpts of transcript from a custody hearing on a high-conflict custody case I had last year, where I represented the mother of 2 young boys, ages 6 and 2.  The father had been on an extended absence of over a year, and when he returned, he demanded the same schedule he had prior to his departure.  Mother works full-time but was still breastfeeding and co-sleeping with Younger. (Names have been changed)

Custody evaluator: The children are experiencing difficulties in the current schedule.

Opposing counsel: What difficulties are they experiencing?

Custody evaluator: As noted, Younger has regressed a great deal in the concrete skills that he's had. In terms of Elder, I saw a child who was very anxious.  They are not doing well in their current schedule.

Opposing counsel: Did you know the Mother is still breastfeeding Younger at age two and a half?

Custody evaluator: Yes.

Opposing counsel: Do you think that has anything to do with his regression?

Custody evaluator:  No.

Opposing counsel: Were you aware the mother is using the fact that she is breastfeeding to prevent visitations?

I objected.  Assumes facts not in evidence.  Judge sustained it.  We moved on.

In the end, we won.  My client was granted the custody/visitation schedule we requested.

But I still mourn for my client who was assassinated by uninformed opposing counsel for doing what was in the best interests of her child.

As heralded anthropologist Katherine Dettwyler, PhD states in her letter to courts in support of extended breastfeeding: "In conclusion, there is no research to support a claim that breastfeeding a child at any age is in any way harmful to a child . On the contrary, my research suggests that the best outcomes, in terms of health, cognitive, and emotional development, are the result of children being allowed to breastfeed as long as they need/want to. Around the world, most children self-wean between the ages of 3 and 5 years, but given that the underlying physiological norm is to breastfeed up to 6-7 years, it is quite normal for children to continue to breastfeed to this age as well, and the occasional “normally” developing child will nurse even longer."

Kelly Chang Rickert, Certified Family Law Specialist, is a family law attorney/mediator, advocating for protection of breastfed babies in divorce/paternity cases.  She breastfed both her children for a total of over 4.5 years.


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