Families come in all different forms. From same-sex couples, to single parents, adopted and foster parents, transgender parents, and other diverse family structures. When it comes to feeding, it really is no different. Individuals may choose to breast or chestfeed, and some may choose to bottle feed. Chestfeeding is defined as “the process of feeding a child human milk from a person's chest.” It is important to recognize an individual's autonomy, including the terminology they use to describe their experience. Individuals may not identify with the term breastfeeding and prefer the term chestfeeding.
Humans are physiologically able to chestfeed/breastfeed even if they haven’t given birth. Inducing lactation can allow individuals to feed and bond with their baby. Oftentimes, the term “breast” is associated with women. Individuals may not feel particularly comfortable using the term “breastfeeding” as they don’t identify with this term or the female gender. While educating ourselves, we found a blog post from Motherly which helped us to understand who may prefer the term chestfeeding. Here are some examples:
-A transgender male who had “top surgery” or “male chest-contouring surgery” - which means that they have surgically removed their breast tissue.
-A non-binary person may not feel comfortable identifying with the term “breastfeeding” as the connotation has been historically female. "Chestfeeding" is more gender neutral and may be the preferred term for a non-binary person.
-A cisgender female who has a history of breast-related trauma may also not identify or feel comfortable with the term "breastfeeding" and prefer a more neutral term like "chestfeeding" (especially due to the hypersexualization of breasts)
It is important to allow individuals the right to choose what terms they are comfortable with and make sure that you are doing your part to ensure that you are creating an inclusive environment for every parent.
Regardless of an individual's preference to breast or chestfeed, here are some tips on how you can best support them:
1. Have a conversation! Ask them their pronouns and what terms they prefer. Ask them if they would like company or if they would rather have privacy. Open dialogue is the best way to understand each other :)
2. Bring them a snack and some water. Imagine feeding another small human, they must need to replenish and hydrate!
3. Educate yourself and those around you. Have conversations with your friends and family about the correct terms and usage for these terms. Teach them how to have an open conversation. Stand up when others misgender or do not take into consideration others terms of preference. Awareness, unlike the coronavirus, is good to spread and we can all be part of a solution.