By Gratiela Sidor, a dual national from Romania living in the United Kingdom for 15 years
More worryingly, nursing mothers are forced to allow overnight contact for babies as young as 8 months old, despite all the health warnings and medical professionals advising against it, including La Leche League (LLL) International.
The courts do not take into consideration if a breastfed baby will feed from a bottle before making these determinations. Babies who are used to nursing through the night are being forced to spend up to 24 hours away from the breast, regardless of whether they will take a bottle, which exclusively breastfed infants often refuse.
The English family system is failing our infants.
Despite Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass) guidelines stating that overnight contact is not appropriate for children under age 2, its officers often ignore this and support instead the separation of infants from their main carer; thus ignoring its own guidelines, studies and World Health Organization (WHO) and National Health Service (NHS) guidelines.
The courts are so worried about so-called parental rights that they are ignoring the welfare and rights of the child in question.
Let’s not forget that parents don’t actually have “rights”: They have responsibilities to their children. Too many parents are blinded by their disagreements with the parent who is main carer and can’t see the harm their actions cause their children. This is further compounded by the courts allowing such access.
Of course overnight contact is completely appropriate for older children, but not for babies. If a mother was in a mother-and-baby unit in prison, she would not be separated from her infant overnight, regardless of the feeding method. Why do main carers defending unreasonable access demands not get the same treatment?
It is not surprising that England is on the bottom of the list of countries in Europe when it comes to breastfeeding, when court-ordered custody agreements force nursing mothers to give up breastfeeding before its time. It should be the infant and the mother’s choice when to stop breastfeeding, not the court’s decision.
Can you imagine the uproar if the court ordered a formula-feeding mother to breastfeed?
An infant who is thriving on the breast should not have that breastfeeding journey interfered with. It is perfectly possible for the father to have lots of reasonable, positive contact without interfering with breastfeeding–contact that can increase as the infant grows older and becomes less reliant on the breast until they are old enough for overnights.
So why are the courts not respecting this? Health care professionals are supporting the non-separation of mother and infant before age 2 for overnight contact with the non-resident parent, but the English courts are totally ignoring this advice and order overnight contact.
The lack of guidelines for the courts also creates inequality for families in that a decision made by one judge could be completely different from the decision made by another judge, so the outcome becomes a lottery for the child!
The English family law system is heading into the wrong direction. We need to act now for the sake of our children.