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As anyone who’s ever been pregnant can probably tell you, there’s a lot of talk about how you feed your baby, whether that’s breastfeeding, bottle-feeding, pumping, formula — or some combination of these.

But the term “breastfeeding” doesn’t apply to everyone. And that’s why many people instead use the more gender-neutral term “chestfeeding.”

In short, chestfeeding is feeding your baby milk from your chest.

It’s often used as a way for transgender and nonbinary parents to describe how they feed and nurture their babies after childbirth by feeding them milk from their chest. Some people also similarly use the word bodyfeeding.

Chestfeeding can also refer to using a feeding tube attached to the nipple to feed their baby if lactation isn’t possible.

Anyone can use this inclusive term if they want to, though the word is most commonly used by transmasculine people or nonbinary people.

They use it because the words breastfeeding or nursing don’t feel like the right fit because they don’t align with their gender or how they identify their anatomy.

For example, a transgender man might choose the term because they had top surgery, while a nonbinary person might choose it because it feels more neutral and nongendered, which aligns better with their identity.

Some cisgender women (people whose gender identity aligns with what they were assigned at birth) might also use the term due to past trauma, so they prefer to use different language to discuss this part of their body.

At the end of the day, it’s no one’s business why someone might prefer the term chestfeeding — it’s just important that we respect their wishes and use this gender-neutral term without judgment to make them feel more comfortable and supported.

Yes. Regardless of the gender assigned at birth, some people can lactate because all humans have mammary glands and hormones to produce milk.

That said, it may be easier for some humans to produce milk than others. Some might need medical support.

Depending on the physical and hormonal changes that have taken place during pregnancy and their transition, lactation can happen for transgender men just like it does for cisgender women, even if they had surgery to change their chest’s appearance.

Transgender women might be able to induce lactation, too, with the help of their doctors, who can prescribe certain medications.

That said, as mentioned above, some people use the term chestfeeding for the process of attaching a tube to their nipple to feed their child. This tube can feed the baby formula, their partner’s human milk, or donated human milk. This is sometimes also called supplementing at the breast.

Other people chestfeed simply to comfort or soothe their infant without milk, much as you might do with a pacifier. This is called non-nutritive sucking.

This kind of non-nutritive comfort can:

  • foster attachment
  • build feelings of security
  • increase warmth
  • help baby fall asleep
  • provide pain relief
  • promote their sucking reflex

Chestfeeding and bodyfeeding are more inclusive terms, helping all parents feel they can find the support and resources they need after their child is born.

If you haven’t had to choose how to label your feeding approach, chestfeeding might seem like just a word, but that is a privilege that not everyone shares.

Pregnancy for the trans and non-binary community is full of obstacles, and many queer parents are treated with judgment, bias, stigma, or prejudice by friends, family, and their doctors, simply because they made the decision to become parents — a decision that cis, heterosexual couples often take for granted.

Many trans and queer people still struggle to access quality healthcare today, including during pregnancy.

According to one study, some trans parents have said they’ve been laughed at by providers and nurses, while others said they were denied lactation coaching at the hospital following delivery of their baby. In fact, 30.8 percent of transgender patients delay or avoid medical attention because of this.

So for this community of people, using the word chestfeeding is an incredible act of empowerment — and it costs us nothing to support them in that choice and use a less heteronormative term that helps all parents feel seen and accepted.

That’s why several lactation consultants, doctors, and organizations, including the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine and La Leche League International, have adopted the term to support queer, transgender, and nonbinary parents.

The simplest thing you can do: Use the terms that parents want you to use.

This means that if you have a trans friend or family member, ask them what words and pronouns they prefer — then use them. For example, one small study found that many transgender people felt tremendous distress when those around them misgendered them while they were chestfeeding.

Don’t assume your chestfeeding friend is comfortable with you staying in the room when it’s time for them to feed their baby, either. Like all parents, some people may want privacy, while others are totally OK feeding their child in public — so check in with them to make sure you respect their wishes.

Stand up for them if another friend or family member gossips about your chestfeeding loved one behind their back. It’s no one’s business how someone chooses to feed their baby — and it’s never a topic for gossip.

Use gender-neutral language when you’re unsure. This means saying “pregnant people” instead of “pregnant woman” or referring to specific anatomic terms (i.e., “uterus” or “chest”) instead of “breast” or “female reproductive system.”

And remember: If you’re a lactating parent yourself, it’s OK if you want to use the words breastfeeding or nursing to discuss your experience. You can use whatever term you want to discuss your body and your actions.

The goal isn’t to replace the term breastfeeding completely (contrary to what some news outlets might report). Instead, it’s simply to normalize the term chestfeeding to be used alongside breastfeeding, depending on what each individual feels most comfortable with.

The reality is, many trans or queer parents feel excluded, judged, or unwelcome when it comes to navigating pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood by both society at large and the medical community. And the words we use, when they aren’t inclusive or sensitive to other people’s gender identity or anatomy, can contribute to this.

That’s why it’s essential to take steps to rectify this so that all parents can feel like they’re being listened to, respected, and given the same care and support as any parent. Using the term chestfeeding alongside breastfeeding is one step toward achieving this larger goal.