Expert: No Conflict Between Breastfeeding and Shared Parenting

For some time now I’ve had the sneaking suspicion that one of the battlefields on which fathers’ rights will be fought in the future is that of breastfeeding. Not long ago I linked to an article in the Canadian press that suggested as much.

I’m speculating here a bit, but the outlines of the anti-dad argument look something like this: breastfeeding confers many health benefits on children; only women can breastfeed; therefore, during breastfeeding years, children should remain with mothers; and having been with mothers in the early years, they should remain there because Dad hasn’t taken enough care of them during those years. It’s a little sketchy, but you get the message.

So I thought I’d forward this piece by Professor Katherine Dettwyler who represents herself as one of the world’s authorities on breastfeeding (Bhaktibirth, 7/9/10). Into the bargain, she’s no fan of dads. According to her,

[M]y research has been used to counter charges of child abuse and “inappropriate parenting behaviors’ in many court cases, especially involving divorce and custody disputes, where fathers may accuse the mother of “inappropriate parenting by virtue of extended breastfeeding’ as a strategy to gain custody of children, or may simply claim that ‘continued breastfeeding” is not relevant to shared custody arrangements.

Hmm. That’s funny; I’ve been reading child custody cases almost daily for over 12 years and I’ve never seen a father make that claim. That doesn’t mean that some haven’t done so, but it’s at most very uncommon. My belief is that mothers may use breastfeeding as a tool to hinder fathers’ access to children, but not the other way around. The Canadian piece I referred to above suggested exactly that.

Whatever the case, it’s noteworthy that Dettwyler goes on to say,

It is quite feasible for divorced parents to work out shared custody or visitation arrangements that allow the father to have ample time with his child while not sacrificing the breastfeeding relationship the child has with its mother. There is no reason why the child cannot have close relationships with both parents, including spending substantial amounts of time with both, without weaning having to take place before the child is ready.

My intuition tells me that we’ll have to deal with this issue sooner or later. It’s worth remembering that an authority on breastfeeding sees no conflict between it and shared parenting.

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