Divorce with a Newborn: An Emotional Time

When you think of having a family, you don’t think of navigating a divorce with a newborn. The arrival of a baby is turbulent. But it is supposed to be a wave of change having to do with the new baby.

Not a whole new life.

Newborns are hard to share

If you are headed into a divorce, or are considering whether divorce is the right move for you, you’ll need to consider the practical implications of it. When parents divorce, generally they separate houses. They don’t live together. A brand new baby comes out of the womb programmed to need and want the body of the woman who gave birth to her.

Taking a child away from the mother near to the time of birth or shortly after could have profound impacts upon the infant. The nearness of the child to the mother is a key factor in successful breastfeeding. If a child spends significant time away from the mother, it can be difficult to establish breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding successfully requires that the infant nurse several times a day. The stomach of a new baby is about the size of a grape, or perhaps a cherry tomato. Baby may nurse as often as once or twice an hour, before going longer stretches of a few hours or more.

If the parents want the child to breastfeed (and gain all the benefits of the breastmilk and the bonding with the mother), some concessions as far as time with the child will have to be made.

Further, babies in general thrive on stability. While older children go back and forth between houses with ease, the same is not true with new babies.

Spending time with both parents when breastfeeding

If the parents want the newborn to spend equal time with both parents (but not together, the mother of the child will have to pump breastmilk regularly to both feed the child and protect her supply.

While pumping works for many mothers, others find that their breasts just know the difference. Pumps have technologically come a long way. Many mothers I have talked to (and myself included) have found that it is hard to pump very much breastmilk.

It may be worthwhile to consider switching to formula so that the mother does not experience health issues with inconsistent feedings. And so baby can get used to one specific type of food. Many infants will happily consume formula and/or breastmilk.

But others will not.

And some babies will happily take a bottle.

Others will not.

Either way, it is recommended that whatever you feeding plan you establish, that both parents commit to sticking with it. In my personal experience, it seems to be less about formula versus breastmilk, and more about the change between the two.

What if the divorce with a newborn is not amicable?

What is one parent wants to see the newborn and the other doesn’t want to share?

Unfortunately, this is a very difficult place to be. There’s no way to say what specifically could or should happen with a newborn in any given state in the US or around the world. Individual states (as well as individual judges) have different laws and opinions about how children should be shared by parents. In some states, the mother is the default choice by the court. For those situations, the father may have to wait until the baby is older to get consistent and stable parenting time with the child.

In this case, it can mean that one parent will not spend significant time with the newborn and will miss a lot of those first milestones. A successful relationship will have to be developed later, and over time, so that the young child can get used to and comfortable with someone who is essentially, a stranger to him.

And I don’t mean to say that the mother will always be the one to have the child and father will be kept away. Depending upon the circumstances, the court might decide that it is in the child’s best interests to stay primarily with the father until the child is older.

In other states, courts and judges do more to involve both parents equally in post-divorce parenting time. In these states, a father may end up having more time with the infant. This could be in the form of regular (daily) visits that are short, and in the presence of the mother. Or, this could be in the form of extended parenting time away from the mother.

Concerns about newborn attachment issues

Newborns are programmed to be strongly attached to a primary caregiver, usually the birth mother. When that attachment is disrupted or inconsistent, children may struggle. Some may develop what is called Reactive Attachment Disorder, which prevents them from forming healthy relationships in the future.

This is not to say that a strong attachment is necessary for an infant to survive and grow up. All we have to do is look to all the child who spend much of every day in the care of a nanny or day care provider.

Children are quite resilient. Given stability and love, children can thrive in almost any environment, even if it is one where they don’t spend all of their time with the mother and/or father.

But in the case of switching a newborn back and forth between parents, both parents must be aware of the infants needs. Both parents must commit to a stable, consistent schedule, and to supporting each other for the benefit of the child.

What if we can’t get on the same page and work together through the newborn and new baby phase?

Unfortunately, if parents can’t work together during the newborn phase, the outcome is likely that one parent will end up missing a lot. When two parents get along well together, it is fairly easy to share the time with a new child. Consistent visits with the child, even if they are short, benefit both the new baby and the new father. These types of visits allow the infant to breastfeed, and establish a healthy attachment to both parents.

But if the divorce is acrimonious, parents may not be able to be in the same space together. It may take the work of a judge to establish parenting time. Getting in front of the court to establish orders can take weeks or months. By the time an order is in place, generally a lot of time has passed.

And what has been missed, has been missed.

If you are thinking about getting a divorce, you should consider talking to an attorney in your state before you take action. You need to know how the courts will treat you and the other parent. Depending upon what you learn, you may decide not to move forward with the divorce until the child is older, even if you’d rather end the relationship now.

Either way, the most important thing is to put the child’s needs first.