Inclusivity

I am passionate about breastfeeding inclusivity, which includes how we talk about breastfeeding and the assumptions that we make about it.

What does it mean to be inclusive?

Not all breastfeeders are cisgender women

To assume that only women and mothers breastfeed ignores gender and bodily diversity and fails to recognize parents who do not identify as women or mothers, yet feed their own milk to their child. These caregivers may breastfeed, chestfeed, and/or express milk; they may call themselves mothers, fathers, parent, or something else entirely.

Not all breastfeeders have a living / genetic / gestational child

There are those who lactate to feed children other than their own legal or genetic child:

  • Grief donors express milk and may donate to others (individuals or milk banks) after the loss of a child
  • Gestational surrogates may express milk to feed the child or to donate
  • Some induce lactation to feed a child in an emergency, an adopted or fostered child, or a child carried and delivered by another family member

Not all breastfeeders nurse a child

For many different reasons, many breastfeeders do not or cannot nurse at breast and exclusively express/pump milk. This is still breastfeeding.

Not all breastfeeders only nurse a “baby”

According to anthropologist, Dr. Katherine Dettwyler, the age of weaning a child off breast milk is anywhere from 2.5 to 7 years of age.


What language can we use to reinforce inclusivity?

🚫 Avoid using “breastfeeding” to only mean feeding at the breast.

✅ Use “nursing” to mean feeding directly at the breast or chest. Use “expression” or “pumping” to mean extracting milk from the lactating person by all means except nursing.

🚫 Avoid “parent”, “mother”, and “father” unless you specifically know the family dynamic.

✅ Use “lactating person,” “breastfeeder”, “gestational carrier,” “respondent,” or simply, “person”.

🚫 Avoid referring to a breastfed child as a baby

✅ Use “child” or “children”. Use “infant” when specifically referring to a child under the age of 12 months or “newborn” if in the first month of life.

🚫 Avoid gendered pronouns (“she/her/hers” or “he/him/his”) unless you know someone’s preferred pronouns.

✅ Use “they” as a singular pronoun (read all about its use here).

“Breastfeeding” as a catchall term

Some of you might not agree, but I personally defend the use of word “breastfeeding” as a catchall term for lactating and/or feeding human milk regardless of the mode of delivery. Regardless of someone’s genetic sex markers, breast tissue is required to produce milk. Biologically speaking, we all have breast tissue. If you’re using it to produce milk and that milk is being used to feed someone, you’re breastfeeding!