Chestfeeding is the act of feeding your baby, regardless of your gender. This can be either with milk directly from your body or the gesture of feeding from your chest with the help of a supplement. The term “chestfeeding” is more inclusive and is representative of all parents.
Chestfeeding is a concept that may be foreign, or even unheard of, to many people. Is it just another term for breastfeeding? No, not really.
What makes chestfeeding a better term is that it involves not only the mother but all people who are parents of a newborn. This article was written to shed some light on what this term means and involves for all parents — so let’s get straight to the topic at hand.
What is chestfeeding?
Chestfeeding, also known as bodyfeeding, is “feeding your baby milk directly from your body”.
It could also refer to the use of a supplementary nursing system (SNS) while nursing a baby, in order to foster bonding between a parent and their child.
How did chestfeeding come about?
Last 2012, a transgender father named Trevor MacDonald decided to start a family with his partner.
During pregnancy, he realized that he wanted to feed his baby with his own milk. After a home delivery, he was initially able to nurse his newborn with the help of friends from La Leche League International.
A few days after, because he wasn’t producing enough milk, he started supplementing with an SNS and donor milk from good friends and a supportive community.
His story was published in the Huffington Post afterward, and the idea of feeding a child by a parent who is not a cisgender woman started taking root.
Is it any different from breastfeeding?
Although the meaning of “chestfeeding” is similar to “breastfeeding” in terms of the goal of the action, which is to feed a newborn using one’s body, the decision to use the term “chestfeeding” instead has important reasons behind it.
For many years, and even until now, the word “breast” has always been associated with the traditional “female” identity. But as more people accept and stand up for their chosen gender identities, there has been a rise in the number of people who choose to feed their newborns, regardless of whether they were assigned female at birth or not, and whether they identify as female or not.
When chestfeeding is preferred
Using the term “chestfeeding” promotes the mindset that all parents have a role in forming a close bond with their child, and that they can choose how they want to form that relationship with them. It can simply be through skin-to-skin contact while feeding, or the act of producing milk for their infant.
Transgender and non-binary people who nurse
Regardless of your sex or gender, you can produce milk! Depending on your situation, your milk supply may not be as much as the gestational parent (the parent who gave birth), but nevertheless, you can help your body produce milk.
Parents using a supplementary nursing system (SNS)
Some gestational parents encounter complications during delivery. In one such case, the father chose to step up and feed his newborn baby with the help of a simple nursing system.
Bodyfeeding also includes feeding an infant with the help of feeding tubes. This is called a supplementary nursing system (SNS). Most parents use an SNS when they do not produce milk, or do not have enough milk.
An SNS may be made at home or bought online or at a physical store. Although a homemade SNS will help you save money, it may not be as effective as a store-bought SNS. It may even place your baby at risk for aspiration if not done correctly.
Cisgender women who prefer a gender-neutral term
Many cisgender women have experienced trauma and abuse that involved sensitive areas of their body, including breasts. For most of them, these experiences are painful and not easily forgotten.
The use of the word “breast” when feeding their child can give them mixed feelings — it can be difficult to label a caring, loving gesture (“breastfeeding”) using a part of your body that was violated without your consent.
How is chestfeeding done?
There are different methods to induce lactation. Most of the time, these are used in combination, for better results. As always, it’s best to consult your healthcare provider and lactation counselor before starting therapy.
The main method of producing milk is by emptying the chest or breast tissue. You can use hand expressions to manually pump. Some parents try using electric “breast pumps.”
Some medications and herbs are labeled as galactagogues — this means that they can help increase milk production.
Before using any of these, be sure to research well — many substances are marketed as galactagogues even if there aren’t enough studies and evidence to say so.
Combine both under a protocol
There are various medical protocols to help induce lactation, offering a combination of the first two methods above. This mostly involves hormonal pills and other oral medications. Whether cis or trans or non-binary, all parents may choose to undergo a protocol to help provide milk for their newborn.
The challenges of chestfeeding
How much milk can be expressed?
If you’ve previously had a procedure to remove breast tissue, there may be less milk production. There are certain types of chest surgeries that may not make chestfeeding possible.
On the other hand, some parents who are taking testosterone may need to temporarily discontinue this medication, so that their body can produce more prolactin to help with milk production.
Transmasculine individuals who choose to bodyfeed their child may have mixed feelings about how this can affect their chest, and by extension, their gender identity.
Chestfeeding may require using chest binding less often, because constant use may lead to plugged milk ducts and even mastitis.
Discrimination from the community
There is a lack of support for transgender parents in most communities. They don’t have as much help or resources to go through when they have concerns with chestfeeding.
There is a lack of inclusivity in public — people may act rude and are less inclined to offer help.
I decided to use an SNS, but I don’t want to use formula milk. Where can I find donor milk?
Human milk banks accept, store and release donated human milk. Milk banks usually screen and pasteurize milk to ensure safety. However, donor milk has its own set of benefits and risks.
I’m having trouble chestfeeding. Are there any websites that can help me troubleshoot?
From preparing to troubleshooting, you can read more on chestfeeding in the following websites and pages:
– La Leche League International
– Today’s Parent
– Mama Glow
– Milk Junkies
I’m a relative or a friend of a person who chose to chestfeed. How can I support them?
Simply respecting their pronouns, using gender-neutral terms and concepts, and choosing to use the term “chestfeeding” can all go a long way. This website lists different ways to let your friend or relative know that you’re cheering for them!
Chestfeeding or bodyfeeding is the act of feeding your baby from your chest using your own milk or through a supplement system.
Chestfeeding is representative of all parents, without bias to their gender. Inducing milk production may involve different methods; parents should consult a lactation counselor or a healthcare provider before starting any form of therapy.
Although chestfeeding has its own set of challenges, support from family, friends and the community can go a long way.