Child Custody

Maternal breastfeeding and custody arrangements

How does breastfeeding affect custody arrangements in Portugal?

Separations and divorces often occur with young children, sometimes even during the mother’s pregnancy.
Subsequently, in the context of setting a visitation regime, it is sometimes argued that a child is being breastfed for the purpose of restricting the baby’s relationship with the father and preventing a visitation regime with overnight stays at the father’s home until breastfeeding ceases.

Courts are sensitive to this claim and sometime accept this argument to support the establishment of a visit regime that, if it wasn’t for the “breastfeeding argument”, would be more balanced.

What to say about this?

here is no doubt that breastfeeding should be valued and cherished, bringing numerous benefits to the baby, whether physical, even emotional and relational, according to what experts say. The World Health Organization (WHO) also recommends breastfeeding for up to two years.

However, it should be borne in mind that the process of linking the child to his parents is established up to the age of 3, approximately, and it is essential, for that reason, that the child has sufficient contacts with both parents until that age. It might even be said that it is especially in those early years of life that contact with both parents is most important. If not, a secure bond with the father cannot be established.

In a newspaper article from 2018 (Jornal I, 02/20/2018 edition), Pediatrician Mário Cordeiro complains about the practice of the courts that prevent the establishment of an overnight stay regime with the father, or the establishment of shared residence, in the case of breastfeeding children, referring that the argument is “a scientific lie, shameless manipulation and social indecency”.

We think that breastfeeding, as well as the child’s (tender) age, are factors to take into account, along with many others, when establishing the regime of socializing with the father. What cannot happen, in our opinion, is an overvaluation of breastfeeding by the Court that leads to the establishment of an insufficient, inadequate visitation regime, and that prevents the father from establishing a secure attachment and bonding with the baby. All the more so as there are alternatives that can and should be considered, such as the father giving the baby breast milk previously collected by the mother.

Breastfeeding and the child’s age are factors that, along with many others, should be taken into account when establishing the child’s visitation arrangements, but which should not be overvalued in terms that lead to the father not establishing a secure connection and bonding with his son or daughter.

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