Editor’s Note: FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth for September, 2021 is Parenthood. We invite submissions on the many layers of being parents, having parents and navigating the social norms of parenting throughout the month. If you’d like to contribute, kindly email your articles to firstname.lastname@example.org
Recently, the United Kingdom’s Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, in a move to facilitate gender inclusive care to patients, has decided to update the language on all hospital resources, namely the website and leaflets. The staff have been requested to replace ‘breastfeeding‘ and ‘breastmilk‘ with ‘people feeding‘, ‘people milk‘, ‘human milk‘ or ‘chest milk.
Breastmilk is beneficial for the health of infants as it boosts immunity and overall well being. It contains various antibodies, probiotics, proteins, fats and sugar, as well as white blood cells, stem cells and good bacteria. It also has components which are bio-active like anti-bodies, enzymes and hormones.
When the infant is exposed to germs, the antibodies from the breastmilk allow the infant’s body to fight them off. Babies who are breast-fed in the first six months are reportedly less likely to develop diarrhea, colds, chest- infections and thrush.
This is an effort to be more inclusive of non-binary and transgender parents. The staff in the hospital have also been urged to avoid the terms “mothers” and “women” until and unless they want to be addressed like that specifically. The effort is to choose gender neutral terms like “parents” and “people“, or “birthing parents” going forward.
Breasts: Stigmatised, objectified and gendered
The process of welcoming a baby can be exhilarating and also incredibly isolating. Parents go through physical trauma and spend sleepless nights getting used to the new routine and taking care of the baby. This means that mothers often remain indoors nursing the baby, thus limiting the social interactions they have.
It is important to acknowledge the stigma around public breastfeeding and how the act of breastfeeding is perceived in the society. It is the right of the parent to breastfeed their child at any time they want. This also calls out the notion of breast-feeding being considered as a domestic chore.
A survey conducted by Momspresso states that only 6 per cent of Indian mothers feel comfortable with public breast-feeding. They feel that available breastfeeding rooms do not have adequate space, apart from not having enough public breastfeeding spaces. The most common places women use to breastfeed are public transport, cars, toilets and trial rooms. The two major barriers to breastfeeding in public are reportedly people staring and lack of hygiene.
Both men and women have breast tissues. The hormones typically present in the female body make them grow into full breasts but men lack the breast-simulating hormones which is why their breast tissue stays flat. It is not uncommon to see men with medium sized or big breasts, that can either be mounds of fat, abnormal hormones or side effects of medication. This is why there are rare cases of breast cancer amongst men.
It is to be stressed how female breasts are perceived in public. An organ that facilitates nutrition for infants is seen primarily as an object of sexual desire. Breastfeeding in public therefore, often leads to harassment or being perceived as public indecency. This is also why women are hesitant to feed in public.
When a parent travels with a baby, they have to choose between going to a public toilet or stopping at restaurants to feed their child. Lactation rooms or baby care centers are not readily available in every location. The gendered infrastructural philosophies behind our public places continue to force parents to breast-feed at homes or struggle find to a private space while out in the open.
The conversation on breastfeeding also excludes transgender parents. Transgender and non-binary individuals are also among birth parents to babies who breastfeed and experience double the stigma in our conservative, heteronormative society.
Gender identity is the sense of identity a person feels personally affiliated to. Some trans and non-binary individuals who give birth do not want to identify themselves as “mothers” but rather as “fathers”. Trans-parents sometimes don’t want to identify themselves as “mothers and fathers” but as “parents” or new words that resonate with their families.
This is why the concept of parenting should be inclusive. It is to be noted that the capability to parent is not affected by the gender identity one belongs to. Transitioning into the gender identity an individual desires will help in aligning the body and mind. This will also lead to teaching children about human diversity and inclusion.
Terms like chest-feeding, chest-milk, human milk and the like are aimed to make marginalised gender minorities comfortable. Pregnancy is a tough period, and it is all the more difficult for trans individuals. It is unfair to burden individuals with our rigid gender pronouns, especially when they experience such extreme physical and emotional transitions throughout pregnancy and child birth.
Gender inclusive language is an important step in equalising individuals of all genders and sexualities. Language is often the first and most immediate layer of exclusion people have to encounter. Recognising this and actively dismantling binary gender norms through gender inclusive vocabulary is therefore very important.
Featured Image Source: NPR