Gender Inclusive Language

Written by: Jess Kimball

Finding a doctor someone trusts seems to be hard, especially for the LGBTQ community. With 68.5% feeling discriminated against by their provider, many members of the LGBTQ community struggle to find a doctor, specifically one specializing in reproductive health care, that uses gender-inclusive terminology. When providers fail to use terminology that a patient prefers it creates a lack of trust from the patient towards the provider. Trust is a key part of every provider-patient relationship. When a patient does not trust a provider they are unable to disclose important information to their provider and receive proper support.

Using gender-inclusive language means speaking and writing in a way that does not discriminate against a particular sex, social gender, or gender identity. It also avoids perpetuating gender stereotypes. Language plays an important role in shaping cultural and social attitudes. Using gender-inclusive language is a powerful way to promote gender equality. It is a proven measure in reducing barriers to access care and reducing adverse health outcomes for LGBTQIA+ individuals. Many queer, transgender, and non-binary parents already face judgment and discrimination when attempting to access care. By using inclusive language you can show your respect for these parents. This is about focusing on people, not labels. Everyone has a unique identity that deserves to be recognized, especially in such intimate areas of care as lactation and birth.

Many qualitative and quantitative studies can be found discussing the same pattern of providers not using gender-inclusive language leading to a lack of trust between patient and provider and the results being serious mental or physical health problems in the patient and reduced rates of parents chestfeeding their infant.

The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine has affirmed the importance of inclusive language. It establishes this as a measure to reduce clinical gaps and increase access to care. It recommends terms like “lactating person” instead of “mother” on forms and when speaking to a client that has not stated that they prefer to be called something other than “lactating person”.

The term “chestfeeding” or “bodyfeeding” can be used alongside “breastfeeding” to be more inclusive. Nonbinary or trans people may not align with the term breastfeeding because of their gender or may have a dysphoric relationship to their anatomy. Gender-inclusive language does not need to fully eradicate gendered language. They can be used side by side. You should also try avoiding language that assumes the mother is the primary parent or caregiver. Use “parenting” instead of “mothering” unless referring specifically to a mother-child relationship.

It is also important to establish the meaning behind the words we use. If a form asks about someone’s sex it should explain that this is the biological sex assigned at birth and also ask for gender. “Birthing person” can be used in place of “mother” when referring to someone who is in labor. You can also use “pregnant person”. This can be helpful in cases where there is a gestational carrier too.

Forms should ask for both a legal name and a preferred name. It is important to make attempts to have the preferred name be the only one listed on forms and documents the client sees. This keeps your client safe from unnecessary triggers.

More information on gender inclusivity in the field of lactation can be found in the ABM gender inclusive language statement.

In December 2021, APA released the first edition of its Inclusive Language Guidelines. It includes guidance for people working to foster equity, diversity, and inclusion in the settings in which they learn, live, and work. These guidelines are grounded in psychological science. They provide direction not only for research articles and formal writing but also for verbal communication, due to the significance of building relationships in day-to-day exchanges. This is another great resource to refer to when creating policies and procedures for your practice.

In order to achieve equitable healthcare there is a need for providers to receive further training on the use of gender-inclusive terminology and providing equal care to patients of all backgrounds. Through further training and easier access to care for LGBTQIA+ patients, it can be expected to see a decrease in rates of anxiety and depression in LGBTQIA+ patients, an increase in LGBTQIA+ patients seeking care, and an increase in LGBTQIA+ parents regularly attending appointments for themselves and their children. An increase in chest feeding can also be expected. Training for providers on gender inclusivity extends to further medical training, especially for providers supporting lactating people.  Additionally, the use of gender-inclusive terminology by both researchers and providers will improve the quality of data through the representation of all individuals providing human milk to their infants.

At Global Foundation for Girls (GFG), we are active thought partners, serving global communities of birthing persons in order to advance and support the advocacy movement. We lead webinars and trainings for providers including doulas, social workers, childbirth educators, and more! To learn more about our upcoming trainings click here!

Jess Kimball, AS, CLC, Certified Birth and Postpartum Doula, PMH-C, Certified Infant Sleep Coach