Breastfeeding while trans

Last week for my column at RH Reality Check* I wrote about Trevor MacDonald, a Canadian trans man and father who made headlines for being rejected as a La Leche League (LLL) leader.

In response LLL is reconsidering their policy that leaders must be breastfeeding women because Trevor, in fact, is breastfeeding his son.

I’ve talked before about how few resources exist about trans pregnancy and parenting, so the positive side of this controversy is that more people know about Trevor, his experience and the resources that exist (some he’s created) about breastfeeding for trans parents.

Trevor, despite having had top surgery, has been able to breastfeed his son using his own milk and an at-breast milk supplementation system  supplemental nursing system which is basically a thin tube that is connected to a bottle but is attached next to the nipple so that the baby can latch on to the nipple and the tube at once. This promotes the bonding that comes along with breastfeeding, but also allows the parent’s milk supply to be stimulated by the baby sucking, along with additional nutrition from the supplemented milk (Trevor has been getting this milk through donations from other breastfeeding folks).

Now I’m not a breastfeeding expert, and I can’t honestly remember much about what was covered on this subject at my doula training, but I’m surprised that this is the first I’ve heard about this. Both the fact that some people can produce breast milk post-top surgery, and that there is a way to supplement with other milk that isn’t a bottle.

I can imagine that the at-breast supplementation system might be tricky to use, and some folks would prefer the ease of the bottle. Related question: can you use the at-breast system if you are supplementing with formula?

While I’m not glad that Trevor was rejected as a LLL leader (and I hope they will come around and see that anyone who is breastfeeding should be welcome) I am glad that his story has brought attention and resources to the question of breastfeeding while trans.

For more information, visit his blog or join the facebook group he created for trans parents and allies.

I’d also love to hear from folks, doulas or otherwise, who have experience working with trans parents who chose to breastfeed. Other resources? Tips? Leave them in comments or email me (radicaldoulaATgmail) and I’ll post more later on.

Update: Trevor sent along the link to this fabulous post with tips for breastfeeding for trans folks.

*Transgender is misspelled in the title of the column, which was an error made by the Editor. I’ve contacted them to ask them to fix it, but have not heard back.


8 thoughts on “Breastfeeding while trans

  1. Tannis September 11, 2012 / 10:30 am

    You CAN use an SNS (supplemental nursing system) if you’re supplementing with formula. I have a friend who did it for many months, quite successfully.

    • radicaldoula September 11, 2012 / 10:39 am

      Thanks Tannis! Good to know.

  2. radicaldoula September 11, 2012 / 10:56 am

    Also things I didn’t explore in that post, but am curious about: breastfeeding for trans men who haven’t had top surgery (any unique challenges?) and breastfeeding for trans women (is it possible?) So much more to learn. If you have any insights, please share them!

    • Trevor MacDonald September 11, 2012 / 12:48 pm

      Hi Radicaldoula! Love your post 🙂 Yes, trans women can indeed breastfeed. The suggested method is (I think) the same as what a cis woman would do to induce lactation for her adopted baby: take hormones to simulate pregancy, then pump, pump, pump and take herbs, domperidone, etc, and of course, once baby arrives, NURSE THE BABY!

      To answer your other question, I’d suggest looking at a blog post I wrote a while back that covers issues particular to breastfeeding trans guys (pre and post-op):

      I’d love it if you (and any readers who are allies, too) would join my new Facebook group, Birthing and Breastfeeding Transmen and Allies. As a doula I think you could both learn and share a lot. The group has quite a few midwives, doulas, LC’s and LLL leaders. You can find us here:

      Thanks again for the great post! I really appreciate your support.


  3. Liam September 11, 2012 / 12:32 pm

    I’ve known trans women who’ve nursed with supplemental nursing systems – the same way that any woman who has not recently given birth could do. Trans women’s breasts will produce milk just as easily as any other woman’s but the supply of milk is low at first and sometimes remains low so supplementary milk is needed.

  4. Mavis September 11, 2012 / 1:35 pm

    Thank you for your post. Although I have not worked with any trans people with breastfeeding, I have worked with adoptive mothers. They have used the SNS with formula for the same reason, to promote bonding and have the baby experience breastfeeding. Having the baby at the breast can increase milk production for someone that is trying to do that. I have worked with lesbian couples and sometimes the non birth mother will do this, so she can breastfeed…

  5. NavelgazingMidwife September 12, 2012 / 10:27 am

    Trevor is not using his own milk. He is using milk from others. He is a huge proponent of milk sharing (a glance at his site clarifies this immediately). I have read all the correspondence from La Leche League that Trevor has put out and they are not “reconsidering” their stance on allowing him to be a LLL leader. Trevor does not fit, in many areas, the way LLL wants their leaders to be, and being trans has zero to do with it. Being a MAN, on the other hand, has a lot to do with it as does his vocal stance on milk sharing and LGBTQI issues. LLL is about mother to mother help with breastfeeding, the end. There is no mixing causes and they are extremely clear about this when they work with leader applicants.

    I am a lesbian former LLL leader and my partner is a transman and both of us do not believe LLL has any reason to include Trevor as a LLL leader; he simply does not qualify under their rules and standards. LLL, just like other organizations and groups, have a right to women-only space just like there should be the right to male-only spaces as well. Everyone doesn’t belong in everyone’s space just to make it PC.

    Trevor has a LOT to offer. He should be starting a trans-breastfeeding support group for the extremely underserved group of trans-parents who want that type of support and that he will be uniquely qualified to help. His knowledge and skill is extremely specialized and is fantastically needed as the growing number of transfolks nurse their young. He is definitely on the cutting edge.

    But, LLL is not the organization that is suited for him.

    • radicaldoula September 12, 2012 / 11:09 am

      I have to respectfully disagree on some of your points.

      First, according to Trevor’s own accounts, he is producing some milk, but supplementing with donor milk. While likely this lowered milk production is because of his top surgery, I’m sure he is not the only person who must supplement their milk with additional milk or formula to support their child nutritionally. I imagine milk supplies and levels vary for many reasons.

      I do agree that LLL has the right to define who their group is for–and my question in that vein would be whether it’s the question of breastfeeding that is most important, or gender identity. I would hope this wouldn’t include a litmus test of how much milk someone needs to produce to be defined as “breastfeeding”, as I’m sure there are many others who need to supplement for a myriad of reasons, gender aside.

      I think this question that LLL is facing (who, by the way, does appear to be revisiting their policies) is coming up in lots of feminist spaces today, and everyone has to do the tough work of really deciding if identity-based spaces still serve them, and if so, who is included?

      In LLL’s case, if they do decide that gender is equally important as breastfeeding, would they then include a breastfeeding trans woman?

      These questions are not easy, and definitely can shake the foundation of how spaces are organized–but I’d argue that our changing understandings of gender and identity require such a revisiting.

      Lastly I would say that while you’re right that Trevor has a lot to offer trans parents in terms of support, I don’t think his support has to be limited to trans parents. Just as he found support from women in LLL, and from literature written for women breastfeeding after breast and nipple surgeries, I think others could find support from his experience as well. Who are we to say who might benefit?

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