Speaking Out on "breastfeeding" Terminology: Recommendations for Gender-Inclusive Language in Research and Reporting

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Abstract

The term "breastfeeding" has recently been critiqued for its ambiguity, as it has come to mean both (1) feeding an infant at the breast and (2) feeding expressed human milk to an infant. In addition, "breastfeeding" is nearly always associated with mothers and women, yet there are individuals who feed their infants human milk and do not identify as such. By using gendered language when conducting and publishing lactation-related research, we risk both alienating an already marginalized population and inhibiting our ability to gather valid, high-quality surveillance data. For example, of 15 U.S. surveys measuring breastfeeding rates, practices, and public opinions, 33% only sampled mothers, and another 33% made assumptions regarding the gender or sex identity of the person giving birth or breastfeeding. In addition, a review of 20 scholarly journals that publish lactation-related research found that only one requires specific language for breastfeeding in their instructions for authors. In response, I recommend several additions to recently proposed terms that describe human milk feeding and associated behaviors. Acceptance and consistent usage of these linguistically inclusive or nongendered terms by researchers will further enhance the quality of future data collection and research dissemination through the representation of all individuals choosing to provide human milk to their infants.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)523-532
Number of pages10
JournalBreastfeeding Medicine
Volume14
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2019

Keywords

  • breastfeeding
  • chestfeeding
  • gender
  • human milk
  • lactation
  • research

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