Navigating Breastfeeding/Nursing and Custody Disputes in Virginia

By | Published On: February 21, 2023

Breastfeeding and nursing a baby can be a controversial topic with strong opinions on both sides of the debate. The situation becomes even more complex when it is intertwined with a custody dispute.

Changes in Virginia Courts

In Virginia, Courts no longer abide by the “tender years” doctrine, which used to presume that mothers should be the primary caregivers for young children and fathers should only have visiting rights. Today, the Virginia Courts acknowledge the important role of fathers in the upbringing of young children and award overnight parenting time even for children less than 1 year old.

Mothers Nursing Infants in the Midst of Custody Disputes

However, if a mother is nursing her child, overnight parenting arrangements can become logistically challenging. It is difficult to replace overnight nursing sessions with a pumping session (or two or three). Additionally, a mother must pump extra beyond what she is feeding her child to be able to send bottles with the father during his parenting time if that occurs away from the home. This, along with other challenges faced by breastfeeding mothers, such as supply issues or allergies to formula, makes a custody order that starts with overnight parenting very early in a child’s life difficult to manage.

Balancing Breastfeeding and Custody Through a Mutually-Agreed Schedule

Given this interplay, it is important that both parents show empathy and understanding towards each other when determining custody arrangements for their baby. It is possible in many situations to develop a creative, mutually agreed-upon schedule that accommodates both the father’s desire to bond with the child and the mother’s choice to nurse. For example, some parents decide to delay overnight visits for the father to allow for overnight nursing sessions, and, in lieu of that, they opt for daily visits for a few hours each day at a set time around their baby’s naps. Other parents are okay with starting overnight visits early on so that both parents can benefit from a full night’s sleep (or, if not a full night, more sleep than usual) while the baby is with their other parent. These are only a couple of the many options available to parents in this situation.

Navigating Complex Issues with a Family Law Attorney

An experienced family law attorney can help you navigate this and other issues when negotiating and/or litigating a custody arrangement for your very young child. Emily C. Baker is a family law attorney and partner at Tucker PLLC. For more information, contact Emily at or call our office at 202-936-3636 to schedule a consultation.

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