Not every parent will use the term “breastfeeding” to describe how they feed their little one. Some parents prefer the term chestfeeding. Learn the definition of chestfeeding, why some parents may choose to use the term, and how to support all feeding parents.
Here at Ready, Set, Food! we support every parent’s decision on how to feed their baby – and every parent's choice on how they describe the experience.
If you chestfeed, we’re here to support you. Chestfeeding is your decision, and you can use whatever feeding method and term are the best fit for your needs. And if you don’t chestfeed, it’s important to know what chestfeeding means and why people use the term, so everyone feels safe and supported on their baby feeding journey.
Let’s define chestfeeding and dive into why people may use the term.
Chestfeeding, or bodyfeeding, is feeding a baby with milk that’s expressed from the chest.
As a body process, chestfeeding works exactly like breastfeeding (lactation). The physical elements are completely the same: the body makes milk in response to hormones, and this milk moves through the mammary glands and out the milk ducts.
But some people aren’t comfortable using the term “breastfeeding,” and have decided that chestfeeding is a much better fit to describe their experience of feeding their baby.
Chestfeeding can also describe when someone uses a tube attached to their chest (a supplemental nursing system) to feed their baby human milk or formula. They may use this tube when they can’t lactate on their own, or when they have a low supply and need assistance to supplement the milk that comes from their own chest.
Who uses the term chestfeeding?
Anyone who feels that chestfeeding is the best fit to describe how they feed their baby can use the term. Most commonly, people who use the term include:
- Transgender men and transmasculine people (people assigned female at birth but who identify as men or masculine) who don’t refer to their chest anatomy as breasts.
- This includes trans men who have had top surgery (a surgery that removes mammary tissue) but who still want to feed their baby milk from their chest.
- Even after top surgeries and hormone therapies, it’s still possible for many trans men and transmasculine people to express milk from their chest.
- Nonbinary parents who want a gender-neutral way to describe how they feed their baby human milk.
- The word “breastfeeding” tends to be associated with women. But the word “chestfeeding” isn’t associated with any sex or any gender, so it’s often a more comfortable fit.
- Women who have had traumatic experiences surrounding their breasts, and who don’t want to refer to their breasts when feeding their baby.
- Saying “chest” may not bring back traumatic memories like saying “breast” does.
- Any parent who uses a tube to feed a baby milk from their chest, and who feels like chestfeeding is the best way to describe the process.
- Any parent who wants to show support for a chestfeeding friend, even if they typically describe their own experience of feeding their baby as breastfeeding.
Why is the language of chestfeeding so important?
Every parent deserves to feel supported in the experience of feeding and raising their little one. You might have not had to think about what words you use to talk about feeding. But not every parent has this luxury. Being inclusive is vital, and “breastfeeding” doesn’t describe every parent’s experience. Calling their feeding practice “chestfeeding” is very empowering for parents who don’t feel like other terms are the right fit.
So, if your friend, family member, or coworker has decided to call their feeding experience chestfeeding, honor their request. That’s one of the easiest things you can do, and it goes a long way.
It’s up to each parent to choose the right feeding practice for them – whether that’s breastfeeding, chestfeeding, formula-feeding, or using a combination of feeding practices – and to choose how they describe it. No one else can make that decision.
How to support all feeding parents
Many of the other ways to support a chestfeeding parent are the same as what you’d do to support any feeding parent.
- Whether they call it chestfeeding or breastfeeding (or something else), parents who are making milk for their little one need nourishment. And parents who have chosen formula feeding are busy, too! If you aren’t feeding your own little one, consider making a new parent a meal. And if you have a little one of your own, you could still get them a gift card for a meal out.
- Ask if a parent would prefer privacy while feeding their little one, or if they’re okay with you staying nearby. Every parent has different preferences about feeding privacy.
- Another way to support a feeding parent is to offer to get them what they need when they’re with you. Do they need water, or a chair? Would they like to use a closed-off room to feed their little one? Honor their request.
- Recognize that your feeding experiences are far more alike than different. It takes lots of strength to feed a baby, and all parents want what’s best for their little one.
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