The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM) has published new guidelines about lactation-related language. It suggested using terms such as “human milk feeding,” “chestfeeding,” and “parent’s milk” to make it a “gender-inclusive language.”
The guidelines elaborated, “ABM recognises that not everyone who gives birth and lactate can be identified as females. Some individuals identify as neither female nor male.”
The four-page ABM guidelines have been co-authored by eight doctors.
Breastfeeding Small Babies Gets A New Name, As New “Lactation-Related” Language Guidelines Role Out
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The Academy said that “the use of gender-inclusive language is appropriate in many settings related to breastfeeding small babies.”
Laura Kair, the medical director of UC Davis Children’s Hospital mentioned that lactation-related language is important in caring for transgender patients.
She claimed, “language has power,” and therefore advised, “The language that we use should be as inclusive as possible when discussing infant feeding. When working with patients it is best to ask them their preferred terminology. Also, when communicating medical research, the language should precisely reflect the population studied so as not to mask research needs.”
Use of gender-neutral terminology
Other guidelines stated in the ABM report asked the doctors to use language such as “lactating person” instead of “mother.” The word “humankind” is recommended over “mankind” as well.
In fact, using “gender-neutral” terminology in medicine has become increasingly common, particularly at reputed medical schools.
In a report from Katie Herzog, published in Bari Weiss’s Substack publication, a University of California endocrinology professor was forced to apologise for implying that only women can give birth. The professor was stopped mid-lecture to apologise for his offence of using “pregnant women” instead of the preferred “pregnant people.”
A student at Marquette University was also rebuked and reminded that his points would get deducted in the next philosophy paper if he refused to use “gender-neutral” language.
Earlier this year, Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust decided to adopt a “gender-inclusive” to respect “trans and non-binary birthing people.”
The trust further instructed the staff to use phrases such as “chest milk,” and “human milk” instead of “breastmilk.” They came to the conclusion that the word “breast” is discriminatory.
These terminologies were made popular after President Joe Biden’s administration demanded $200 million for maternal health care while referring to mums as “birthing people.”
The ABM statement comes with a note of caution about the use of “birthing people,” warning that it could be misconstrued.
New Breastfeeding Guidelines Are Based On Specific Considerations
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ABM guidelines mentioned that although it recognises diversity in sexual orientation, but at the same time is aware that there are many countries where being anything but heterosexual and cisgender is illegal.
In these countries using gender-inclusive lactating language will do more harm and may prevent important information from reaching families. In these settings, documents that use desexed language may be censored.
Clarity and translation concerns
The guidelines mentioned that gender-inclusive terms may be confusing in languages other than English. For instance, in order to make it gender-neutral, the word “parent” is often substituted for “mother.”
But, in many languages, the word “parent” is a masculine noun and it could mean father.
There are also some languages, where there are no “gender-neutral equivalent” for many words. In this situation, when a term such as “lactating parent” is being used instead of a mother, it may create more confusion.
The guidelines further highlighted that most gender-inclusive terms do not have equivalent meaning to the words they replace. For instance, in medical terminology, ‘‘breast’’ refers to both the male and female body parts. ‘‘Chest’’ is often substituted but it has a different anatomical meaning.
Breastfeeding small babies could be construed to mean the act of nurturing one’s own child at the breast. So, it also implies a physical and emotional connection between the dyad.
On the other hand, ‘‘lactating’’ does not require any physical or emotional connection between the dyad.
Also, in order to be gender-inclusive, “birthing people” can be used as a substitute for mothers. However, this is a very broad term and it also includes gestational surrogates, and also women whose infants are adopted by others.
These people may not fall within an author’s intended meaning.
ABM highlights that studies on breastfeeding and maternal mortality have included subjects who are presumed to be cisgender.
Data on the health effects of lactating or breastfeeding transgender parents are lacking. In some conditions, merging of the two terms ‘‘mothers’’ and ‘‘lactating parents’’ will mask the need for specific research.
As it will assume that scientific knowledge about the former applies uniformly to the latter.
The Academy concludes that while its ability to use gender-neutral terminologies may be limited due to various reasons, but it doesn’t negate the recognition and its support for diversity in the human experience of infant feeding and bonding.
What do you think about this change of terminology for breastfeeding small babies?
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