When Trevor MacDonald started chestfeeding about five years ago, he didn't know anyone who had attempted it, nor had any of his doctors ever encountered someone who had. In fact, he was shocked that his body could even produce milk. As a trans man—someone who was assigned female at birth but has transitioned to identifying as male—he was born with the mammary glands and milk ducts required for lactation, but he'd had his breasts removed. Once he had his baby, his care providers supported his desire to nurse, but it was up to him figure out how.
MacDonald began blogging about chestfeeding from his home in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and soon discovered a whole community of transmasculine people around the world in the same boat, looking for guidance. For trans men and transmasculine folks, putting a baby to their chest to suckle can lead to complicated feelings about their gender. Many lactation support services are available for “nursing mothers,” which sounds unwelcoming to men and non-binary individuals. And many trans people say doctors don’t understand their bodies or experiences.
With no formal training as a researcher, MacDonald decided to take a scientific approach to these challenges. He teamed up with a diverse group of lactation experts, nurses, midwives, and researchers to publish “Transmasculine individuals’ experiences with lactation, chestfeeding, and gender identity,” a study that was funded by a grant from the Canadian Institute of Health Research and that recently appeared in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth.* It’s a qualitative attempt at defining the internal and external difficulties transmasculine people face when chestfeeding. There are studies about lactation and nursing, and studies about trans folks, but nothing much at the intersection of these two topics. In fact, even “chestfeeding” is the first known use of the word in the title of an academic paper.