A mother in Virginia, was court ordered to use a bottle to feed her exclusively breastfed daughter.
Antonio Hugo Photo/Moment/Getty Images

Parents Have Thoughts After Court Orders Nursing Mom To Use Bottle In Custody Dispute

Arleta Ramirez, a mother in Virginia, was court ordered to use a bottle to feed her exclusively breastfed daughter.

Divorce is a notoriously difficult ordeal to endure — one that only becomes more complicated when there are children and custody disputes involved. Further complicating matters is when a child in question relies on one parent as a food source via breastfeeding. In Virginia, this issue came to a head for one couple, resulting in courts telling a breastfeeding mom to use a bottle and radically change how she currently feeds their baby.

Arleta Ramirez and her husband, Mike Ridgway, separated shortly after their birth of their now 5-month-old daughter in July. The custody arrangement asserted that Ridgway would have four days of visitations, with overnight visits beginning in February 2023. The arrangement itself is not in and of itself unusual except in a particular court ordered provision, as reported by The Washington Post: “Mother is to make every effort to place the child on a feeding schedule and use a bottle.”

Many people who have breastfed an infant can tell you that “bottle” and “schedule” can be hard sells for babies used to exclusive breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is often done on demand (Ramirez told The Post her daughter may eat every hour at times), and bottles are often rejected by little ones used to nursing.

Pumping can be a great solution for some parents, but it’s not a panacea.Jamie Grill/The Image Bank/Getty Images

For the breastfeeding parent, successful breastfeeding does not always equal successful pumping and, indeed, Ramirez, who nursed her older child for two years, told The Post she has struggled to pump enough for her daughter, who was initially not too keen on bottles in the first place. Failure to express milk can result in pain and even infection (mastitis) for the breastfeeding parent. So while Ramirez was not ordered to stop breastfeeding, the court order insisting on a schedule and a bottle could well have the same effect, telling The Post that even her lawyer suggested she stop nursing.

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

In a written statement shared with The Post, Ridgway said he has provided “space to both nurse and to pump milk for me to bottle-feed our daughter while she is in my care,” and will continue to support his daughter being fed breast milk past six months “as much as possible, while also supplementing with formula only when absolutely necessary.”

Formula may be incorporated into a breastfed baby’s diet, but can often create complications.sod tatong/Moment/Getty Images

Certainly some people have made combination feeding — providing breast milk and formula — work for them. However, given the nature of breastfeeding — in which the child’s nursing schedule dictates supply — it can also serve to hamper breastfeeding efforts, to say nothing of aforementioned risk of infection and painful engorgement for the relevant parent. Tara Steinnerd, Ridgway’s attorney, seemed to dismiss these practical concerns, telling The Post that Ramirez is using breastfeeding to try to salvage a relationship that is over and is “using breastfeeding as a weapon against visitation.”

On social media, reaction to the case has been mixed. Some are horrified by the judge’s order that Ramirez change how she feeds her child.

“Excuse me? Shouldn’t the decision be about what is best for baby? But no, it’s all about the desire to control women by weaponizing their bodies against them. It was never about ProLife,” tweets @ghhshirley.

“Here for the comments from men telling us how easy it is to pump or switch from bottle to nipple and back. Please do tell!” @hjwoof says.

Others, however, have weighed the little girl’s relationship with her father as being more important than nursing.

“Sorry, she chose to make a baby with him. He has every right to equal time. No reason she can’t bottle train so he has as much time with the baby as she does. Fed is best,” opines @SecretMom1194.

“This is silly,” says @ottovonbisbark. “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 BF isn’t reasonable. Unless mom is SAHM, most babies are getting pumped milk or formula by 5 months.”

Others still recognized the situation as being inherently complicated.

“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? I don’t think this is a ploy by mom, but there should be a compromise,” says @zplerhop.

Legally speaking, there’s no universal rule that speaks to how judges weigh breastfeeding in custody hearings — it largely will depend on the state and judge in question. La Leche League, an international nonprofit that supports breastfeeding, acknowledges that custody issues may ultimately create an issue in exclusive nursing for a child. “The child’s needs should come first and foremost, and both parents may find that compromise is needed to ensure that those needs are met,” the nonprofit explains on its website. “Maintaining the nursing relationship is vital; however, it also is important to consider the child’s relationship with the co-parent and not use breastfeeding to bar access to a child.”