In a growing number of areas in the US, staff at hospitals and other organizations that cater to new mothers ask that words like “chestfeeding” be used — and are frowning on “mother” and “father” in favor of phrases like “birthing people.”
The new language coincides with the increase in transgender and non-binary people who are parents, and experts say places like La Leche League — which has been devoted to helping mothers breastfeed since more than 60 years — have fallen victim to “wokeness.”
“‘Mother’ is the first word most babies will say and the word is often very similar in all languages [even] with completely different cultures, histories and backgrounds,” said Karleen Gribble, an adjunct associate professor at Western Sydney University. “The word ‘mother’ holds a lot of meaning. Using generic words for parents also makes it hard to advocate for maternity leave and paternity leave.”
A specialist in the study of what she calls “sexed language“ and its importance, especially when it comes to new mothers and their babies, Gribble told The Post that the language around pregnancy, birth, lactation, breastfeeding and newborn care is being “desexed” as a result of politically correct policies not only in the US but in the UK and Australia — and it’s hurting poor and vulnerable mothers the most.
“If you can’t name [women or mothers] and if you have to use dehumanizing language like menstruators, uterus-havers and cervix-owners, it is all the more confusing and demoralizing, Gribble said.
The changes — especially in language and attitude — have trickled down to some mothers who are chafing at this new reality.
“We’re inventing all these new phrases for something natural,” Texas mom Elise Full, 34, a mother of three who is currently breastfeeding her 2-month-old, told The Post.
“I’ve been in the hospital and heard them refer to ‘chestfeeding’ and ‘human milk’ rather than breast milk. I’ve been asked by some medical professionals, ‘If words like ‘Mom’ were not used would you come back?’ — and I’ve said no,” Full said. “I am biologically a woman. I don’t understand why that’s up for debate.”
Some professionals in the field, meanwhile, are angry.
At first, a number of women who work as lactation consultants, as well as midwives and many pediatricians, welcomed what they saw as progressive changes in La Leche League and other organizations beginning around 2010, numerous breastfeeding professionals told The Post.
“We were going to conferences and hearing a lot about DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] and we thought it sounded great,” said one California-based lactation consultant who asked to withhold her name for fear of losing work. “We have a heart for equity. We were the perfect ground for this buy-in. But then it all exploded into something very different.”
On the one hand, the source and others said, they were all for a much-needed emphasis on the disparity in care that babies, especially ones of color, can get if they’re poor.
“Those are true things that need to be addressed,” the California lactation expert said. “But then the conferences started to address gender ideology more and more. The organizers began requiring more inclusive language and getting rid of valuable, science-based topics. We began losing a lot of academics who hold true to biology. It feels as if they want to erase women and mothering.”
La Leche League — founded by a group of Catholic women in 1956 — was originally viewed as so strait-laced that a second, much more progressive organization sprang up around 2014 called Breastfeeding USA. As a result, La Leche quickly adopted more extreme policies of its own, sources said.
“Now it’s an organization run by wokeness,” the California lactation expert said. “It caused the leaders who were holding the line on this to retire. They saw all the gender ideology and language and said, ‘We’re not going to do this.’”
La Leche League did not return requests to comment.
MaryLou Singleton, a New Mexico-based midwife with more than 25 years of helping mothers with pre-natal care, home deliveries and breastfeeding, said she first noticed an abrupt push toward what she calls radical new policies in her field around 2010.
Singleton said that grant money for midwifery and lactation for marginalized women suddenly came in and with it, she said, young activists who use the funds to push new woke language and ideas.
She said the younger women clashed with the older midwives and lactation consultants, a number of whom had been instrumental in reviving breastfeeding after the now $70 billion formula industry dominated the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
“When the money came in, things got very aggressive,” Singleton told The Post. “Until about 2013 the older midwives were still clashing with the younger ones. The young activists were reprimanding us for being what they said was too white, [asking] why aren’t we serving marginalized people and why aren’t we using the new language and why are we assuming everyone is heterosexual?”
“There was a demonization of the elder midwives,” she added. “The generation who trained me and who brought back traditional and home births were told, you’re either with us or you’ll be silenced.”
As a result, Singleton said, many older midwives left the profession.
Key to some of the changes in the breastfeeding world came in 2011 when a Canadian transgender man who birthed and breastfed his children, Trevor MacDonald, began a blog called Milk Junkies, which has racked up hundreds of thousands of views since then.
Among the tools used by people unable or struggling to breast — or chest — feed are drugs and hormones such as the Newman-Goldfarb protocol, first introduced in 2000 for adoptive mothers, and a “supplemental nursing system” that involves using a tube from a bottle of breast milk or formula to tape to one’s nipple so an infant can simulate being suckled at the breast.
MacDonald also successfully campaigned La Leche League to change its position on allowing men into the organization and into meetings — which were traditionally viewed as safe spaces for mothers — in 2014. He wrote a memoir, “Where’s the Mother? Stories from a Transgender Dad“ in 2016.
MacDonald, whose background includes health care and academia, also published a paper in 2016, “Transmasculine individuals’ experiences with lactation, chestfeeding, and gender identity,” which was the first time the term “chestfeeding” appeared in the title of a research paper.
MacDonald did not respond to emails from The Post.
The lactation consultants and midwives interviewed by The Post say they’re not bigots or transphobes but feel that their field has been hijacked by overly woke policies that are erasing women and ignoring truly impoverished mothers and mothers of color.
“The truth is, in our world most of us do not see trans families [as patients] but many see minority families,” the California lactation expert told The Post. “The big organizations creating policies for birth and infant nutrition are missing the mark. They’re making a huge deal about a population that we almost never see. The evidence they are looking for is not there. They need to spend money on real things like inadequate feeding for poor babies that formula companies have caused.”