17.2 What can I do if the father insists on overnight or extended contact while my child is still breastfeeding?

1. Refer to the expert advice and the health benefits of breastfeeding. (See below [59]).

2. Stress that you are breastfeeding because it is in the child’s best interest for comfort as well as nutrition. It is not something that you chose to do in order to deliberately limit your child’s contact with their father, and it is wrong for anyone to imply this. A caring father would want this for his child too.

3. If you are being criticised for breastfeeding, point to  the ’attachment‘ theory, established in the 1960s by British psychologist, John Bowlby, and now widely accepted by child mental health experts. He showed that babies need to form an attachment with their primary carer from birth, that this is crucial for early brain development and long-term emotional security, and that immense damage is caused by separation. For a young child this usually means they need to continue to be with their mother, whom they’ve been with from inside the womb where the biological and emotional attachment begins.[60] 

4.  If you have a breastfeeding counsellor/support worker or sympathetic paediatrician/GP, ask them to write an expert report or at least make a statement to court about the benefits to your child in particular of continuing to breastfeed, and the harm of not breastfeeding. The report should be specific to your situation and you can either attach it to your position statement or you can ask for it to be submitted as a witness statement (as long as the author is prepared to give evidence in court) by making a Part 25 application. If you don’t have a counsellor, you can contact La Leche League,[61] and ask for their help. Their websites have a lot of useful information on breastfeeding generally and on how to handle contact issues, which you should look at. Insist that your lawyer does too. They can ask the court to commission an independent breastfeeding report and expert witness. Check with Claire: BlindParents UK also provide additional support for breastfeeding mothers who are blind or visually impaired, both with regard to breastfeeding advice and to dealing with Social Services.[62]

It has been successfully argued that a baby’s human rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights must be recognised. Like everyone else, they have a right to “physical and moral integrity” which can include the continuing physical and emotional significance of breastfeeding. It can be argued that a disproportionate disruption of nursing and/or time with the mother is a breach of that right. It is crucial to raise the significant harm that has been or will be caused by separating a breastfeeding child from their mother. Refer to the old and new research on the fundamental importance of the child’s attachment to the primary carer for their sound emotional, mental and physical development, with breastfeeding central to that in the early years. And you can quote the following institutions:

The UK Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health states:

We strongly support national policies, practices and legislation that are conducive to breastfeeding, as well as promotion, advice and support to new mothers . . . Mothers should be supported to breastfeed their healthy term infant exclusively for up to 6 months . . . encouraged to breastfeed beyond 6 months, alongside giving solid food . . . supported to continue breastfeeding for as long as they wish . . .

The UN Human Rights Council stressed that:

Breastfeeding is a human rights issue for both the child and the mother. Children have the right to life, survival and development and to the highest attainable standard of health, of which breastfeeding must be considered an integral component.

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