It is no secret that, when possible, breastfeeding is the preferred method of feeding an infant. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) continues to share information that supports the many benefits breastfeeding provides. Besides positive impacts on both infant and maternal health, breastfeeding strengthens the parent-baby bond and gives positive environmental impacts. Also, as we saw with the recent formula shortage, breastfeeding offers an insurance against these crises and recalls so that parents may have one less thing to worry about. This begs the question, if breastfeeding is so great, why isn’t everyone doing it?
The short answer is that there are many barriers for the lactating parent that make breastfeeding not only difficult, but also impossible in some cases. One reason in particular is the lack of comprehensive and inclusive lactation education, which should be provided by a doctor. This is the best way to ensure parents can make an informed choice regarding providing human milk as the main source of nutrition for their baby. This disparity is even wider in parents who are members of the LGBTQ+ community. Due to gaps in knowledge of LGBTQ+ reproductive care and/or a gender-specific approach to lactation, parents within this community may be significantly less likely to provide human milk for their babies. Additionally, if a doctor happens to use heavily-gendered language when explaining options and resources available, it may also discourage LGBTQ+ parents from seeking this as an option.
There are many ways to provide inclusive education to all new parents. New or soon-to-be parent teams made up of two women can be offered education on induced lactation for the non-carrying partner, just as is offered for adopting mothers. For parental units made up of individuals who do not have breast tissue or are post-op surgery (gender-affirming removal of breast tissue), direction to milk banks and education on donated milk is valuable.
A great way to create an open and safe discussion space with gender non-conforming patients is to use inclusive language. Some gender-inclusive alternatives for the term “breastfeeding” include “chestfeeding” or “bodyfeeding.”
When it comes to using the best language, don’t be afraid to speak up and share your preference with your doctors. This can create a trusting relationship between you and your care team. Also, remember that the decision to provide human milk for their infant lies solely with the parents. The choice to use human milk or formula must be respected. So don’t be afraid to speak up, ask questions and research in order to make an informed decision that is right for your family.
About the Authors
Board certified by the American Board of Pediatrics, Dr. Hailey Nelson joined Valley Children’s as a complex care pediatrician at the Charlie Mitchell Children’s Center in 2016. Dr. Nelson enjoys working with children of all ages and abilities and is especially passionate about providing the best possible care to medically fragile children and their families. She is also a licensed breastfeeding consultant, certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultants to support nursing mothers and their babies.
Dr. Adrianna Sosa is an active member of the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and more recently a Board Member of the Fresno Madera Medical Society. She sits on all of the Valley Children’s Medical Education committees and helps to keep the Residency Program running smoothly. She is a passionate educator, serving as a physician instructor and advocate for Safe Kids Central California as well as a teacher to her peers. During residency she crafted a resident curriculum on LGBTQ+ care.