I am passionate about breastfeeding inclusivity, which includes how we talk about chest/breastfeeding and the assumptions that we make about it.
What does it mean to be inclusive?
Not all chest/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 chest/breastfeeders have a living / genetic / gestational child
There are those who lactate to feed children other than their own legal or genetic child. For example,
- 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 chest/breastfeeders nurse a child
For many different reasons, many chest/breastfeeders do not or cannot nurse at breast and instead exclusively express/pump milk. This is still chest/breastfeeding.
Not all chest/breastfeeders feed an infant
According to anthropologist Dr. Katherine Dettwyler, the age of weaning a child off human milk is anywhere from 2.5 to 7 years of age.
What language can we use to reinforce inclusivity?
✅ Use chest/breastfeeding instead of just breastfeeding.*
🚫 Avoid using breastfeeding to only mean feeding directly at the breast.
✅ Use nursing to mean feeding directly at the breast/chest. Use expression or pumping to mean extracting milk from the lactating person by all means except nursing.
🚫 Avoid using language that makes assumptions about sex, gender, sexual orientation, and family dynamics.
✅ Use lactating person, chest/breastfeeder, gestational carrier, or simply, person.
🚫 Avoid referring to a chest/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 pronouns. Someone’s pronouns are not their “preferred” pronouns.
✅ Introduce yourself with the pronouns you use (“Hi, I’m Fiona. I use she/her pronouns”) and ask others what they use (“I want to make sure that I get it right, so can I ask what pronouns you use?”).
✅ Use “they” as a singular pronoun (read all about its use here).
* Breastfeeding instead of chest/breastfeeding
While I use chest/breastfeeding on this site, you will find other writing of mine where I only use breastfeeding. Regardless of someone’s genetic sex markers, breast tissue is required to produce milk. Biologically speaking, we all have breast tissue. However, having breasts is mired in social, cultural, and gender norms and expectations, as is the term breastfeeding. I advocate for more inclusive language to be universally used—it is slowly getting there, but change takes time.