Separating or divorcing while pregnant or with a baby or young toddler can be stressful and difficult. Arranging visitation is easiest if you remain flexible and patient.
Sharing and Preparing
If you are separated or divorced during pregnancy, you can begin to create a two-parent life for your child before birth. Share childbirth classes and the birth (even if you choose someone else as your primary childbirth support partner) if possible. Offer information about your health, the baby and your due date.
Discuss how to share time with your child after the birth. Think about your schedules, driving distance between your homes and the needs and routine your child is going to have in the first few months. Remember that no schedule should be set in stone. It is essential that both of you remain flexible.
Dealing with Legalities
Going to court is a necessary step in organizing your child’s life. You need an order spelling out custody and visitation. Get a referral to an attorney from your local or state bar association. You may also use a mediator, who can help you and the other parent create an agreement yourselves.
If you do not create your own agreement, the court will create a visitation schedule for you. It is important to remember that you and the other parent can alter this schedule (as long as you both agree to any changes) as your child grows and as your lives change.
When creating a visitation schedule for your infant, start in small increments. Begin with an hour of visitation at your home every day or every other day. Gradually increase this to two or three hours a few times a week at the other parent’s home. Most new mothers feel most comfortable if visitation takes place while they are present, but the other parent has to be given the freedom to develop parenting skills and a bond with the baby. Overnight or extended visits are usually not ordered until a child is two or three years old, but do what works for you situation.
Breastfeeding and Visitation
It is possible to breastfeed successfully even if your child spends extended time with the other parent. Start pumping milk as soon as possible and build up a supply. Make sure the other parent understands the benefits of breastfeeding and how to transport, thaw and feed expressed milk to your child. Meet with a lactation consultant to plan for breastfeeding and visitation and to help you work out problems as they come up.
The schedule that should be most important is your child’s schedule, not the visitation schedule. One week your baby may be feeding on demand every two hours, making an extended visit difficult, another week your infant may have an ear infection and scream all night and sleep all day. Assess your child’s needs and try to work around them. Make substitutions without reducing visitation time.
Both moms and babies experience separation anxiety! Of course you are going to be nervous and worried when you are apart from your child. There will certainly be times when your child has trouble making transitions between parents. All of this is completely normal. Developing a relationship with both parents is essential to your child’s emotional well-being. Put your own feelings about and history with the other parent aside and focus on your child.
Baby Equipment Alternatives for a Non-Custodial Parent
It is usually not practical to transport needed baby equipment with your child, but the parent who has visitation can still be equipped without purchasing an entire duplicate set.
Instead of a: He/she should have:
Full size crib folding travel crib
High chair booster seat with tray
Changing table folding changing pad
Baby bathtub foam kitchen sink liner
Jumbo pack of diapers small pack of diapers
Toddler bed bed rail
Deluxe stroller lightweight folding stroller
Complete layette/wardrobe a few items of size appropriate clothing to keep at home
Items to Transport with Your Baby on Visitation
Car seat (unless each parent has one)
Diaper bag with a few diapers and wipes for use in transport
Breastmilk if nursing
One or two bottles for use during transport
Sweater or cover up
A change of clothes
Any necessary medication
Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of The Divorce Organizer & Planner, How to Parent With Your Ex: Working Together for Your Child’s Best Interest, The Complete Divorce Guide and The No-Fight Divorce Book. Her web site is www.BretteSember.com.