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.


Anti-breastfeeding bingo

From Hoyden about Town, a hilarious and oh-so-on point Anti-breastfeeding bingo.

Check it out here. Sometimes humor is the only way to cope.

New study discusses benefits of breastfeeding

A new report is out about the benefits of breastfeeding in developing countries. From the LA Times article about the report:

This spring, the federal Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research (AHRQ) published a report that evaluated the research on breast-feeding and children’s health. Assembling the data involved a year and a half of combing through more than 9,000 studies and reviews, selecting those that met strict quality criteria.Dr. Ruth Lawrence, who chairs the breast-feeding task force of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), said the result is the “most comprehensive, all-inclusive” document on breast-feeding in developed countries. “It’s an excellent report,” she said.

While it’s difficult to prove cause and effect with these studies, I think there is still something to be said for this kind of evidence, especially considering that the medical community and the formula companies have a lot of damage to undo from the years of formula and bottle feeding promotion. What I’m still waiting for is the research that proves that formula feeding is beneficial and has all these disease prevention possibilities.

With that in mind, the report found that breast-fed babies were:

* 64% less likely to develop gastrointestinal infections

* 72% less likely to be hospitalized for lower respiratory tract disease

* 23% to 50% less likely to develop ear infections

* 4% to 82% less likely to develop necrotizing enterocolitis if premature.

* 36% less likely to die of sudden infant death syndrome

* 42% less likely to develop atopic dermatitis

* 27% to 40% less likely to develop early-childhood asthma

* 15% to 19% less likely to develop childhood leukemia

* 19% to 27% less likely to develop Type 1 diabetes

* 7% to 24% less likely to be obese

* 39% less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes

I do agree with those who say we shouldn’t scare women into breastfeeding and rather encourage and support women.

Dr. Darshak Sanghavi, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, said that the focus should be on helping women who want to breast-feed, rather than “browbeating” those who don’t.

News Round Up

It’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these, but I’m taking advantage of a day off to catch up on the news. Enjoy!

Lower back tattoos interfere with epidurals? Doctors say no.

Story of a water birth in West Texas, and another article about water birth.

Midwife assisted births on the rise.

The Today Show online investigates alternative pain mediation techniques.

80% of people in the UK oppose a bill which would remove the legal requirement that a doctor consider the child’s need for a father when performing IVF procedures.

More love for midwives in Wisconsin.

Opinion piece about the financial waste caused by intervention and over-hospitalization of birthing women.

43% of women in California breastfeed exclusively.

One hospital in Houston considers outlawing VBACs (vaginal births after cesarean sections) completely.

Study says that curvy women live longer and have smarter children.

NYTimes article discusses the declining enrollments in childbirth classes.

Support the Breastfeeding Promotion Act

Since I just came back from a two day conference about breastfeeding, this action alert caught my eye. It’s from an organization called MomsRising:

MomsRising has a goal of bringing millions of people, who all share a common concern about the need to build a more family-friendly America, together as a non-partisan force for 2008 and beyond. This grassroots, online effort is mobilizing mothers, and all who have mothers, across America as a cohesive force for change.

You can see more about them at their website, as well as sign up for their e-alerts, which are great.

More about the Breastfeeding Promotion Act:

Dear MomsRising Member,

As the mother of four breast-fed children (including a set of twins), I take it seriously when mothers describe difficulties they encounter trying to breastfeed their babies.

Recently we told you about Sophie Currier, a medical student who needed pumping breaks during her 9-hour board exam. We also told you about Janee McConnell, who was an exceptional employee at a grocery store but could not convince management of the need for a clean, comfortable room in which to pump for her third baby.

Stories like this make me realize that WE must tell our own members of Congress that we want them to pass the Breastfeeding Promotion Act. We need to take a stand on this or else they won’t. A bill goes nowhere without co-sponsors. So we need your help: Ask your Congressperson to co-sponsor the Breastfeeding Promotion Act by clicking below to send a letter right now. In just one click, you can send a letter asking your representatives to co-sponsor The Breastfeeding Promotion Act and also sign a statement of support for the Breastfeeding Promotion Act.


Media & Breastfeeding: Jane Brown

This will be the final post from the Breastfeeding and Feminism conference. It has been an interesting two days, I’ve learned more about breastfeeding than I ever might have wanted to, but have also learned what it looks like when a new group grapples with the idea of reproductive justice. It’s a difficult concept to grasp, but particularly to use. I appreciate the efforts to make these connections and even as an exercise I do believe it broadens all of our movements.

Now, on to the final keynote speech of the conference:

Jane Brown, PhD UNC-CH

Media and Breastfeeding: Friend or Foe?

The media is now controlled by huge conglomerates–10 media companies now control 80% of our media.Advertising does have an effect on habits: One study found that breastfeeding declines as hand-feeding ad in parenting magazines increase.

Breastfeeding is a tough sell. There are few products to market, you may evoke negative feelings about breastfeeding, on top of the infant formula lobby.

New research says that when people see images of women breastfeeding, it reminds us of our creatureliness and may evoke death anxiety. They think this is related to a new state of “terror management” provoked by this post-9/11 culture.

<Clip from Chicago Hope shown about a 6 week old who dies from dehydration and malnutrition due to breastfeeding> The episode was promoted by the pharmaceutical companies who make formula. Based on a case where a woman was convicted of manslaughter for the death of her child due to malnutrition. This is an example of “entertainment education.”

Use new media! (woo-hoo, plug for bloggers)

Bumper sticker idea: Jesus was breastfed, Latch on to breastfeeding, Breastfeeding is green

Jane’s vision: Every time you see a baby on television, they are being breastfed. It’s not the conflict, or the controversy, its just the norm.

Breastfeeding Symposium: Experiences of Immigrant Women

Norma Escobar, La Leche League Leader, Wilmington, NC
Experiences of Latin American Immigrant Women*

Language barriers: many of the immigrant women are not fluent in English, and are scared and alone without interpretation

Barriers to breastfeeding for immigrant women:

  • Breasts are seen as functional in Latin America and public breastfeeding is not stigmatized. (In the US, breasts are seen as sexual)
  • Mandatory breastfeeding time (one hour) from employers in Latin America. (Nothing like this mandated in the US)
  • In Mexico, there are no free supplies or direct advertising to consumers. (Here both these things are rampant)
  • First feedings are at the breast in Latin America. (In the US, it is with bottles, the formula bottles come with the nursery cart)
  • Breastfeeding duration is more extended in Latin America. (In the US, it is much shorter)
  • Birth considered a normal life cycle event in Latin America. (In the US, it is considered dangerous)
  • Breastfeeding considered safest in L.A. (Here, considered risky)
  • Breastfeeding as a woman and child’s right. (Here, a choice)
  • Fear as a deterrent in the United States–a real fear, exacerbated by recent immigration raids

*Note: I’m really happy to hear about the experiences of immigrant women, which has so far been absent from the discussions.

Barbara Katz Rothman: New Breast Milk in Old Bottles

Keynote Address, Breastfeeding and Feminism Symposium:

Barbara Katz Rothman, PhD

Different ideologies through which one can look at a mother and baby breastfeeding:

Patriarchy. We are all children of men, the essence of everything is in the seed. It is now acknowledged that women are contributing half the seed. Who carries the child (the gestational carrier) is not important, or has no genetic relationship to the child. She can’t add anything, but she can screw things up.

Technological society. Efficiency is everything. The outcome is what counts, if you can get there more quickly, that’s better. Body as machine. Medicalization, efficient management of medicalized body is the goal.

Capitalism. There is a price tag on all things–everything is for sale, blood, semen, of course milk. We promote breastfeeding through the economic lens–it’s financially smarter. What if it wasn’t? Would we still breastfeed? The capitalist ideology makes us see the world as a global market of equal choices. More choices are always seen as good, there is no higher value than choice.

Race. The racialization of milk, history of wet nurses and slavery, the race politics of America has a huge impact on breastfeeding. Pumping: you pump and someone else will feed the white milk to the baby.

Feminism. Looking critically at the “public health recommendations,” which have a history of being wrong (hormone replacement therapy for example).

What are we really doing? What are we trying to achieve? The logic we use to promote breastfeeding needs to be critically examined. If we argue that breast milk is healthier, what happens when they create a formula that is just as healthy, or healthier? Why does it matter? If it’s about breast cancer prevention, what happens when we eradicate breast cancer?

It’s not gonna be about health, and it’s not going to be about choice, or bonding. Why is it we really value it and what are we doing here?

Blogger note: I think there are a lot of connections between Barbara’s argument about breastfeeding and other social and reproductive justice movements. This examination of our logic is huge, and what we need to make long term gains rather than short term wins based on what works today. (Think about the natural birth movement, the pro-choice movement, etc).

Breastfeeding Symposium: Feminism vs. Public Health

Dr. Suzanne Haynes, US PHS Office of Women’s Health

Feminism vs. Public Health: Feminism in opposition to Lactivism

The word choice has been stolen from feminists by the formula representatives. “It is a woman’s choice to breastfeed, or not.” The formula ads are written to create doubt. The women who are choosing to formula feed are not informed about the risks about breastfeeding. No disclaimers on formula bottles about these risks (like cigarettes). The formula companies are afraid of litigation. National Breastfeeding Awareness Campaign is about informing women about the risk of not breastfeeding.

The de-sexualization of breasts will help promote breastfeeding. Comment from audience: I don’t want to desexualize my breasts, I love that they are sexual and I get to share them with who I please.

Going back to work is the major barrier to exclusive breastfeeding. Fear of discrimination, ridicule, lack of promotion and lost wages. New toolkits being created to help make employment environments breastfeeding friendly, like lactation rooms.

Status symbol: Buying formula in the 1950s was seen as a status symbol. Formula ads make it seem like all working women use formula.

Formula usage is much higher among low-income women and women of color.  Asian Pacifica Islander women have the highest rates of breastfeeding, African American women have the lowest rates. 

Potential Risk Reduction for Women:
28% decrease in Breast cancer
21% decrease in cervical cancer
12% decrease in Type II diabetes

Pharmaceutical companies produce most of the baby formula, earning $4 billion dollars a year. Formula industries spent $80 million dollars in advertising over two years, the government only had $1.5 million for their breastfeeding promotion campaign.

For more about the Health and Human Services Breastfeeding Campaign, see this Washington Post article.

Opening Panel

Dr. Bernadette Gray-Little, Provost UNC-CH

Similar to childbirth, breastfeeding is not a shared experience. Many people never see women breastfeeding, it is done as something hidden, in the safety of home or underneath clothing.

Ms. Alice Lenahan, Director, Nutrition Services Branch, NC Division of Public Health

Breastfeeding promotion and protection in North Carolina: Blueprint for action to improve breastfeeding rates in NC

Ms. Barbara Cameron, La Leche League

“Breastfeeding was absent from my personal experiences and any professional or academic discourse.”

College student: passion for reproductive rights, no thoughts about breastfeeding

“Breastfeeding was a way of mothering my children. Unique physical connection with my children and a powerful and healing connection to my own body and femininity.”

“Thinking that baby formula is superior to breast milk is thinking that 30 years of technology is superior to 3000 years of human evolution.” -Christine Northrup, OB-GYN