Midwives told to say 'chestfeeding' instead of 'breastfeeding' in gender-inclusive move

10 February 2021, 09:53 | Updated: 10 February 2021, 12:29

Midwives have been advised to use the word chestfeeding rather than breastfeeding
Midwives have been advised to use the word chestfeeding rather than breastfeeding. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Midwives in Brighton have been told they can replace the word "breastfeeding" with "chestfeeding" and "mother" with "mother or birthing parent" as part of efforts to be more gender-inclusive.

Staff at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust have also been told that "breastmilk" should be replaced by phrases such as "human milk", "breast/chestmilk", and "milk from the feeding mother or parent".

The hospital will become the first in the UK to introduce an official gender-inclusive language policy for its maternity services department, which will be rebranded as "perinatal services".

Terms such as "woman" and "father" will also be superseded by "woman or person" and "parent", "co-parent" or "second biological parent" respectively.

The progressive changes come following the release of a policy document published this week, which also suggests motherhood words like "woman" should not be completely scrapped.

Instead, it recommends adding the word "people" and similar inclusive language.

Read more: 375,000 vulnerable patients missed by shielding alert, watchdog finds

Watch: Grant Shapps: 'Red list' rule-breakers must face tough penalties to save lives

"Gender identity can be a source of oppression and health inequality," the publication reads.

"We are consciously using the words ‘women’ and ‘people’ together to make it clear that we are committed to working on addressing health inequalities for all those who use our services."

It says the Trust is working to improve access and health outcomes for marginalised and disadvantaged groups.

"Women are frequently disadvantaged in healthcare, as are trans and non-binary people… by continuing to use the term ‘woman’ we commit to working on addressing health inequalities for all who use our services," the document explains.

It adds that biological essentialism - the belief that human nature, such as masculinity or femininity, is innate - and transphobia are both currently present within elements of mainstream birth narratives and discourse.

Read more: Several vaccine centres still closed as Storm Darcy brings -17C freeze

Watch: Sirs Elton John and Michael Caine urge people to get jabs in NHS video

"We strive to protect our trans and non-binary service users and healthcare professionals from additional persecution as a consequence of terminology changes, recognising the significant impact this can have on psychological and emotional wellbeing," the publication says.

“Acknowledging the cultural context in which service development occurs is vital in making trans and non-binary lives safer.”

The changes will be seen across the Trust's website, in pamphlets and other forms of communication, including emails and letters.

A statement posted on Brighton and Sussex Maternity's Twitter page said: "We want everybody who uses our services to see themselves reflected in the language that we use.

"This means not only pregnant women, but also pregnant trans, non-binary and agender people. Our chosen approach to inclusive language is additive rather than neutral."

It also suggests staff use language that appeals to a patient's identity.

Trans Actual - a campaign group established in 2017 to fight transphobia - welcomed the decision.

“This is fantastic, well done. Let’s hope many more trusts follow suit. Everybody deserves to be treated with dignity and respect," it said.

Dr Ruth Pearce, a feminist sociologist who was an external reviewer for the policy, tweeted: “This is absolutely groundbreaking work on trans inclusion in perinatal services from the BSUH Maternity Gender Inclusion Midwives team.”

However, the language changes have attracted criticism online, with one Twitter user saying it will lead to the "erasure of women" and another arguing it was "peak misogyny".

It was also branded "truly shameful", "absolutely unnecessary" and "guaranteed to harm women" in another tweet.