Chestfeeding: When inclusive language makes you feel excluded
This is post 3 of three in our "the importance of language" series.
You can read
post One, Nursing here
post two, Breastfeeding here
This blog post isn’t like anything you’ve read before. It’s going to have definitions, history, and it’s going to be thought provoking. AND I’m going to push some buttons. I’m going to ask questions, I'm not going to be polite about it, and I’m not going to answer these questions for you.
This is a sensitive subject.
You might get triggered.
You might get emotional. And that’s ok. Your feelings are valid, but how you choose to express those feelings, and the language you use, might not be. Comments will be screened.
Let’s get started.
From the moment you announce your pregnant, there’s a lot of talk about how you “should” feed your baby. Whether that’s breastfeeding, bottle-feeding, pumping, formula — or some combination of these, everyone has an opinion. Feeding is a heated topic with a lot of conflict, and so’s the language we use to talk about feeding.
If you haven’t had to choose how to label your feeding approach, chestfeeding/breastfeeding might seem like just words, but that’s a privilege not everyone shares.
There’s a lot to unpack here. Let’s start by looking at some definitions and their origins. I’ve decided to tackle these in historical order. Think of this as the timeline for the vocabulary society has used to label feeding.
The term feeding is fairly new. When I started H.E.A. maternity in 2015, no one was using this term yet. It started to creep into the maternity vernacular in 2020. It wasn’t the maternity industry or the healthcare industry that started to adopt the term. It was mothers.
I’d come across the term on kijiji and other buy and sell groups when mothers were selling their maternity and feeding clothes. There’s nothing online about this yet. I’ve done the research and no one is talking about it.
Feeding isn’t mainstream yet, but I think it should be. It describes the act of feeding a baby in its purest form. It leaves body labels out of it. But I know the breast (chest) vs formula snobs won’t like it because it doesn’t differentiate them enough from the “others” who make different choices for their babies.
If you want to get hung up on the body terms, use lactiferous feeding. That’s what your milk ducts are called, and that’s where your milk comes from. Not your breast. Your breast is just the container, the straw.
Do you feel represented by the word feeding?
Why or why not?
Why does the word breast mean so much to you?
Do you feel "breast is best", so you want a term that sets you apart from formula feeders? Are you a feeding snob?
In 2021, The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine has released new guidelines suggesting the term “breastfeeding” is not indicative of “gender-inclusive language” and ought to be replaced with “chestfeeding” or “human milk feeding” instead.
If chestfeeding is the same thing as breastfeeding, why do we need a new word?
Because, unlike other mammals where breastfeeding is a physiological activity that is part of the female reproductive process, for us, humans, it’s a social construct. Breastfeeding is not the same for everyone. Same ocean different boats. Not everyone’s experience is going to be like yours, therefore not all dialogue is going to make you feel represented.
As previously stated, for humans, breastfeeding is a social construct. What chestfeeding is and the role it plays in a person’s life depends on education, beliefs, social norms, gender identification, social class, ethnicity, place where they lived, culture, medical history, and so on.
In short, chestfeeding is feeding your baby milk from your chest. It’s a more gender-neutral term and includes parents who are tube feeding their preemie and older baby’s.
Chestfeeding is used in the community of people who have recently given birth but don’t identify as women. It can also be used by people who do identify as female but prefer ‘chestfeeding’ because of physical or emotional trauma related to their breasts. Chestfeeding can also refer to using a feeding tube attached to the nipple to feed a baby when lactation isn’t possible. It’s a more empowering term than tube feeding, and a less emotionally degrading term than breastfeeding.
Some people and businesses choose to use the term chestfeeding at certain times to be an ally or show support for a chestfeeding friend. I’ve made the choice to alternate between chestfeeding and breastfeeding to include and educate. And I will continue to do so, even if I receive negative pushback. After writing this I’m thinking of exclusively adopting feeding (more on this below).
“At the end of the day, ‘chestfeeding’ is for anyone who feels like it’s for them. Choosing whether or not to use the term is a personal choice. Staying aware of these terms keeps you from having to ask chestfeeding people to explain themselves and making them uncomfortable. It’s best to simply accept and respect people’s choice of words concerning their own body.” https://picklesandicecreamga.org/what-is-chestfeeding/
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. Remember, if the use of the term chestfeeding makes you feel left out, it’s not just about you. We’ll talk about representation below.
Chestfeeding is meant to be non-threatening, ungendered and inclusive. I think it’s meant to be included in everyone’s vocabulary. Expanding your mind is important for personal growth. The use of the term is to educate, include, and inform. I don’t think it’s meant to replace the use of the term breastfed. It’s meant to be included alongside it. Which is why I use it interchangeable with breastfeeding in my communications.
When inclusive language makes you feel excluded: POKING THE BEAR
What is the emotion you are feeling?
Why is this term threatening to you?
Are you being oversensitive? Is there trauma from your past or an insecurity making you feel defensive?
Are you Narcissistic? Are you being too self centred?
Do you realize that not everyone’s experience is going to be like yours, therefore not all dialogue is going to make you feel represented?
Why do you feel emotionally when you suddenly don’t feel represented by the vocabulary?
Are you showing contempt to the people the word chestfeeding represents to include? Are you homophobic or racist,
Are you just being a social snob? elitist?
Is it images like the one above that make you hate the term chestfeeding?
Do you feel degraded by the term?
Is this where equal rights goes too far for you?
Write about it, but make sure you have valid arguments and not just anger to express. We need debate and intelligent conversations to learn and grow, not more hate speech.
CHANGE & REPRESENTATION Why it Matters
To want your parenting journey to be defined by the word breast is fine, but so is making room for a marginalized person’s vocabulary. It’s about acknowledgement NOT assimilation. No one is trying to take your experience away from you or minimalize it. I haven’t completely converted from breastfeeding to chestfeeding because that’s not inclusive. I'm leaning towards the term feeding.
Using the word “chestfeeding” is opening a dialogue about (with) someone else who has had the same struggles but uses different words to describe their very similar experience.
Same ocean different boats. Not everyone’s experience is going to be like yours, therefore not all dialogue is going to make you feel represented.
Want to learn more about chestfeeding?