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Outrage as court orders breastfeeding woman to bottle feed baby to suit father’s custody schedule

A court’s decision to order a breastfeeding mother to “make every effort” to bottle-feed her daughter to accommodate a custody agreement has sparked anger.

Arleta Ramirez, from Virginia, has been breastfeeding her daughter since she was born in July, according to The Washington Post.

However, Ramirez has now been ordered by a Prince William County judge to place her child on a “feeding schedule and use a bottle” after the court ordered that the child’s father be permitted to visit the baby four days a week.

“Mother is to make every effort to place the child on a feeding schedule and use a bottle,” the order reads.

 (The Washington Post/Getty Images)
(The Washington Post/Getty Images)

The 28 November court ruling, which also permits the baby’s father Mike Ridgway overnight visits with the child beginning in February, meaning that Ramirez has tried to wean her daughter off breastmilk.

But, according to Ramirez, she has struggled to feed her baby as a result of the court order. The mother of two toldThe Post that she tried to pump, but was not successful at producing milk. Ramirez said her daughter, who she breastfeeds “as much as once per hour,” also initially rejected the bottles.

Additionally, Ramirez has concerns about relying on other methods of feeding her daughter, noting that evidence and experts suggest breastfeeding is “best”.

“Why are they forcing me to stop breastfeeding?” she said. “Isn’t that her right? Isn’t that in her best interest?”

Ridgway told the outlet that he has given Ramirez “space to both nurse and to pump milk for me to bottle-feed our daughter while she is in my care”.

His attorney, Tara Steinnerd, alleges that Ramirez is using breastfeeding “as a weapon against visitation”.

Ramirez has begun preparing for another court hearing in April, where she will provide evidence, including a letter from her daughter’s paediatrician stating that the baby is exclusively breastfed and the names of legal experts who back breastfeeding, to support her continued breastfeeding, according to The Post.

On social media, the court’s ruling has sparked a debate among readers with many criticising the court order.

“This is repugnant,” one person tweeted, while another asked: “How is this legal?”

“This makes me so sad. Absolutely outrageous,” someone else said.

Another reader said the court order was confusing and said that rulings were “supposed to be about the best interest of the baby”.

While many were angered by the court order, others said they understood where the judge was coming from.

“I’m sympathetic to wanting to breastfeed as long as possible (and I agree that there is no systemic bias against fathers in the courts), but isn’t it important for this father to spend time with his infant?” one person asked. “I don’t think this is a ploy by mom, but there should be a compromise.”

Another said: “This is silly. I’m a fan of nursing if it works for the mom, but to say the other parent can’t have visitation because you want to exclusively breastfeed isn’t reasonable.”

Stephanie Bodak Nicholson, president of La Leche League’s USA Council, told The Post that custody disputes involving breastfeeding concerns are common.

The outcomes of each case vary. Legal experts note that breastfeeding is often just one factor considered in a custody agreement and certain states don’t require judges to factor in how a baby is fed.

A child’s age also matters, according to Cores Family Law, which notes the older the child is, the less likely breastfeeding will outweigh the importance of spending consistent time with the child’s father.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, with continued breastfeeding for up to two years or longer.

The Independent has contacted the Prince William Circuit Court and Steinnerd for comment.