Chestfeeding

In November, our post on Instagram about gender inclusivity and lactation got a lot of support and a lot of violent pushback for using the term “chestfeeding.”

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In this blog post, we wanted to answer of your questions and provide more LGBTQI-affirming lactation resources.


Image from La Leche League, artist unknown

Image from La Leche League, artist unknown

“Chestfeeding” is generally considered a more gender inclusive term than “breastfeeding,” because everyone has a chest; however, it’s up to the individual to decide what term(s) feel best for them. La Leche League of USA and Canada made a joint statement on the use of the word, explaining “chestfeeding is a term used by many transmasculine and non-binary parents to describe how they feed and nurture their children from their bodies. Some prefer the term nursing instead, while others prefer breastfeeding. We use all of these words, and . . . warmly accept whatever term a family chooses for their own experiences.” Families can always be asked what term they prefer. The Department of Health in New York City has encouraged hospitals to use the term “chestfeeding” as well. The International Lactation Consultant Association also released style guidelines for written lactation resources that recognize gender diversity in lactation.

The acceptance of these terms by international lactation organizations does not justify the need to use this language. Organizations are often far behind in addressing people’s lived experiences. Frequently, these changes are the result of the hard work of LGBTQI people advocating for themselves.

LGBTQI lactation provider Alice Farrow published the article, “Lactation Support and the LGBTQI Community” in the Journal of Human Lactation in 2014. Alice begins to explain the importance of using gender-inclusive language in this interview:

“‘Misgendering people —for example referring to a birth father as “mum” or “mom” or referring to a female partner as “dad”—is erasing, hurtful, and disrespectful. A care provider is not doing a good job if their client or patient is uncomfortable, unable to listen to them, does not trust them, is afraid of them, is not intending to return for follow-up, is triggered, or is in any way damaged by the consultation or visit.

Transgender and gender nonconforming people have higher rates of suicide and mental illness and lower rates of health than the general population (not due to their gender, but due to society’s prejudice). This is a serious health equity issue. Knowledge of gender-inclusive language and a willingness to adopt gender-inclusive language will improve access to your care and improve the quality and appropriateness of the care you provide.’”

If you are looking for LGBTQI affirming lactation resources, here are a few we recommend. Please let us know if you have any resources you’d like to be added to this list.

Milk Junkies: Breastfeeding and Parenting From a Transgender Perspective is an amazing blog by Trevor McDonald. Trevor also started a Facebook support group, called “Birthing and Breast or Chestfeeding Trans People and Allies.” Trevor wrote a blog post, “Transgender parents and chest/breastfeeding” for Kelly Mom that goes into language and lactation information for transgender women and men.

Cis people, if you feel bothered by the term “chestfeeding,” we invite you to breathe, research experiences outside of your own, listen, and reflect on why you feel the way you do. We have a lot of work to do in dismantling white supremacy and the gender binary, and it’s a constant practice of learning and unlearning.