my baby my choice?

A Mom In A Child Custody Dispute Was Just Ordered To Bottle Feed

In Virginia, a judge has ordered the mother of a 6-month-old infant to bottle feed so that the baby's father can have partial custody.

A child custody case is in the news after a Virginia mother was ordered to start feeding her baby fo...
Natalia Lebedinskaia/Moment/Getty Images

No matter what side of the breast versus bottles debate you’re on, one thing that most people can agree on is that when it comes to feeding, a baby’s parents know what’s best for their kid and their family. But what happens when parents disagree?

This week in northern Virginia a judge got to decide the hot-button topic for a family, and in this case, it wasn’t a choice the mom was planning on making.

According to The Washington Post, Arleta Ramirez and her partner Mike Ridgway separated soon after the birth of their baby in July. Now, they are engaged in a Prince William County court case to determine child custody. The issue? The baby is exclusively breastfed, making it difficult for the child’s father to retain much meaningful physical custody.

The judge’s controversial solution was to allow the father visits four days a week and for overnight visits with dad to commence this month. How can overnight visits take place without mom around to nurse? The judge ordered: “Mother is to make every effort to place the child on a feeding schedule and use a bottle,” according to court records.

Ramirez, who breastfed her older child for two years, would prefer to keep feeding her baby with breastmilk. Not only that, but, she says, she’s having difficulty producing milk via pumping and the baby is having trouble using bottles.

She produced a letter from her pediatrician as well as from breastfeeding experts, but the court has not budged. And her own lawyer recommended that she abide by the court orders.

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

In response, the child’s father told the Post in an email that he had given Ramirez “space to both nurse and to pump milk for me to bottle-feed our daughter while she is in my care. “Past the age of 6 months I will continue to support breastfeeding and bottle-feeding our daughter breast milk as much as possible, while also supplementing with formula only when absolutely necessary,” he said in a statement.

Ridgway’s lawyer, Tara Steinnerd, though, made a much tougher argument, stating that Ramirez had ulterior motives besides her baby’s health; namely, that she was attempting to salvage a relationships with the father and that she was using breastfeeding as an excuse to prevent the child from spending time with dad.

“They come up with a myriad of excuses,” she told WaPo. “It’s about using breastfeeding as a weapon against visitation.”

This type of dispute isn’t uncommon, according to journalist Justin Moyer, who looked into the history of child disputes and nursing moms for Wapo. It’s obviously complicated — with both sides arguing sexism and ulterior motives.

According to Moyer’s research, there used to be a “tender years” legal doctrine that was common in family law, which states that moms can provide better care for babies in their first years. But this doctrine is followed less and less in modern days because it’s seen as outdated and unfair to dad.

Now, either co-parents must solve the issues between themselves, or, like in this case, a judge may get to decide what and how you feed your baby.