Health Sex + Body Positivity

Breastfeeding Is NOT A Gendered Role, And Trans-Ness Is Challenging That!

Queering lactation helps us question the construct of maternity and the gendered and racial stigma that exists around breastfeeding.

Induced lactation to breastfeed young children has been an important medical breakthrough for parents of all genders. But this is especially queer-affirming, given that it helps adoptive parents as well as transgender parents connect with their children, through this incredibly intimate experience.

Induced lactation has been described as the process of milk production by a mammal without their becoming pregnant. This is often done through using herbs, supplements, medication, hormonal therapy, mechanical stimulation, as well as the infant.

In a world where breastfeeding is considered an important chapter of building intimacy and kinship as a mother, it can be incredibly desirable for certain people as well as dysphoric to others, depending upon their relationship with their gender identity, their body, and maternity. Despite the rigorous process and often an inability to produce adequate milk, most people who induce lactation to feed and connect with their child have reported feeling satisfied with the breastfeeding experience. It is also reported to help the child who may have separation trauma/anxiety from their natal parent, who have may have given away the child for adoption or may not have wanted to breastfeed the child for various reasons.

In 2018, the first medically known instance of a transgender woman who induced lactation to feed her child, did so because her partner who gave birth did not feel so inclined. In 2002, reports emerged about a Sri Lankan cis-man who breastfed his children after his partner died in childbirth. According to a doctor at a Sri Lankan government hospital, it is possible for cis-men to produce milk if the prolactine hormone allowed for spontaneous lactation! Medical anthropologist Dana Raphael said that this could happen simply by stimulating the nipples (breast pumps can be used)and eminent endocrinologist, Robert Greenblatt, concurred. Certain medical conditions like a pituitary tumour and being on digoxin, a heart medication, could also allow for lactation. Starvation too, can cause spontaneous lactation and has been historically recorded as allowing men to breastfeed their children in oppressive conditions. In fact, this is one of the most important function of the nipples – a feature that is common to most people, regardless of their genital form or their gender identity.

Queering lactation helps us question the construct of maternity and the gendered and racial stigma that exists around breastfeeding. It is also anti-capitalist, because if people breastfed while staying agnostic to these gendered roles, then it could pose a challenge to a potentially US$100 billion industry that is built upon selling infant formula.

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Tejaswi is journalist and researcher whose attention is captured by post-colonial human relationships at a time of the Internet of Things. She can't wait to become a full-time potter soon, though!

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