Staff at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals in the UK have been instructed to use gender-inclusive terms such as “chestfeeding” alongside the language of women and motherhood. Their goal is to make all aspects of their services inclusive and welcoming for everyone. (1)
UK Hospitals to Use “Chestfeeding” And Other Gender-Inclusives Terms In Baby Ward
Earlier this month, the Brighton and Sussex University Hospital announced that they will be using gender-neutral terms alongside the traditional language of women and motherhood. (1) Terms will include (2):
- Woman and father along with “woman or person,” “parent,” “co-parent,” and “second biological parent.”
- “Pregnant women and people.”
- “Postnatal women and people.”
- “Human milk,” breast or chest milk,” or “milk from the feeding mother or parent.”
The maternity ward will also be rebranded to “the perinatal unit.” The staff is adamant that the change is not to erase women, who are also a disadvantaged group in the medical system. Rather, it is to include another marginalized group. On an individual basis, all hospital staff will use the preferred terms of the individual patient. (2)
“We want everybody who uses our services to see themselves reflected in the language that we use,” they wrote on Twitter. “This means not only pregnant women but also pregnant trans, non-binary and agender people. Our chosen approach to inclusive language is additive rather than neutral.” (1)
Why Make The Change?
Contrary to popular belief, there are trans-men and trans people who still choose to have babies, despite their gender identity. There are also couples in which one member of the parental unit identifies as transgender. Feedback from this community revealed that many don’t feel included, seen, or welcome in the perinatal unit. Much of this comes from the languaging that doctors, nurses, and administrative staff use. (3)
Changing the terms used to include everyone allows them to feel accepted and taken care of in that setting so that everyone can receive equal care. (2)
“Gender identity can be a source of oppression and health inequality,” they wrote on Twitter. “We are consciously using the words ‘women’ and ‘people’ together to make it clear that we are committed to working on addressing health inequalities for all those who use our services.” (1)
While there has been much support and praise for the decision, there has been just as much backlash. Some have called it misogynistic, ridiculous, and an “erasure of women.” This is why the hospital maintains that they are not getting rid of traditional terms but instead adding new ones to include a formerly excluded group of people. During individual care, staff can use whatever terms and pronouns preferred by the parents. (4)
What is Chestfeeding?
The term chestfeeding has specifically brought up concern, confusion, and outrage among many. This stems from a lack of knowledge on the trans experience. Many transgender men still have the ability to become pregnant and have a baby and may choose to do so. With so few studies done on transgender people who have babies, many assumed that transmen who have had surgery to remove their breasts would not be able to breastfeed. (3)
This has proven not to be the case, as the milk glands and ducts in many cases are still very much intact. However, many transmen and non-binary individuals find terms using the word “breast” make them uncomfortable or excluded. They often don’t get the same resources, equipment, or hospital staff assistance regarding this matter. (3)
In the study “Transgender Men and Lactation: What Nurses Need to Know,” researchers study and reveal the needs of post-partum transgender men in regards to lactation and how to properly feed their baby. (3)
After interviewing study participants about their experience as a transgender man giving birth, they concluded that nurses and doctors need more education about their needs. They often feel excluded, and hospital staff frequently refer to them using the wrong pronouns and languaging. (3) While the terminology isn’t the only thing that needs to be done to support these people, it is certainly a good place to start.
- “Gender Inclusion.” BSUH.
- “Transgender men and lactation: what nurses need to know.” Pub Med. Emily Wolfe-Roubatis, et al. February 2015.
- “Brighton NHS Trust introduces new trans-friendly terms.” BBC. February 2016.