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Binding, Lactation and Mental Health for Transmasc and Gender Non-Binary Individuals

Updated: Jun 27, 2023

For the social media version of this, see the Instagram posts. Black text is written on an ombre style background depicting the colors pink, blu, and orange. The text reads as follows:

Queering Perinatal Mental Health

(because the heteronorms of the perinatal world are suffocating)

Binding, Lactation and Mental Health for Transmasc and Gender Non-Binary Individuals

Exploring Lactation & Gender Dysphoria

A common concern for transmasculine folks considering chestfeeding/bodyfeeding is the potential for gender dysphoria.

One way to define gender dysphoria is as “the experience of distress or anxiety regarding one’s gender and body.”

Regarding chestfeeding, while gender dysphoria may be experienced, the levels of dysphoria depend on many psychosocial factors and are often overstated. In small study conducted on postpartum transmasc folks, the majority chestfed and stated they did not feel dysphoric in doing so.

Exploring Lactation, Gender Dysphoria & Binding

Chestbinding is a common practice for transmasculine and non-binary individuals. It aids in promoting overall mental wellbeing by lowering instances of gender dysphoria. This practice doesn't need to stop during the perinatal period and if done safely, may support a minimization of postpartum gender dysphoria, raise rates of chestfeeding initiation and extend chestfeeding duration for perinatal dyads.

"I bind every day and am nursing my 14 month old. I learned early on that I am susceptible clogged ducts so I went slower and went with a sports garment and then was binding for short periods of time then went on to binding on my regular old routine. It has been totally fine."

Lactation & Lack of Resources

Reflecting on their experiences with lactation, parents stated that strategies such as accessing informed fertility options and intentions, providing professional guidance around hormonal affirming therapy, developing educational strategies, and abolishing discriminatory behavior while seeking healthcare would promote better experiences related to chestfeeding.

In the same small study mentioned earlier, one participant who did not continue chestfeeding, stated the following, “I was producing a ton of milk.…I didn’t have anything ready socially, either. I didn’t have any zip-up binders. I had no way to stop the milk from leaking through my chest. I had no appropriate…male clothes for nursing.”

Lactation & Binding Misinformation/ Lack of Provider Support

In a study re: overall binding health, low rates of seeking care for binding-related ailments may be driven by lack of access to a [lactation] provider with whom clients feel safe and comfortable...Providers should be familiar with the benefits and potential complications of binding and initiate non-stigmatizing, positive discussions about binding with their transmasculine patients.

"It is important to model and support folks to utilize language that is reflective of their individual needs and experiences. A recent father used the term 'Papa Juice' when referring to his experiences, which created a stronger bond and commitment to chestfeeding for him."

Lactation, Binding & PMADs

The majority of infant feeding studies cite that one of the most important links related to infant feeding and PMADs (Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders) are the goals the parent sets and their ability to reach them.

If a parent wants to chestfeed and is counseled not to do so or is unable to due to a lack of information or support, their chances of developing a PMAD increase.

Lactation, Binding & Mental Health Protective Factors

While binding without support/ knowledge may contribute to discomfort, clogged ducts, mastitis or otherwise, binding with support can minimize dysphoric mental health distress and support an infant bodyfeeding relationship.

Medical literature states:

  • Bodyfeeding provides a psychoneuroimmunological benefit that reduces anxiety, which is likely associated with the hormone prolactin.

  • Bodyfeeding directly decreases the symptoms of depression.

  • Alternatively, early cessation of bodyfeeding eliminates these benefits.

Lactation, Binding, Mental Health & Top Surgery

There are many factors that contribute to an individual's desire or ability to opt for top surgery. If an individual has not done so, one reason may be that they believe this to preserve access to chestfeeding. It is important to note that folks who have had top surgery may be able to chest feed.

For those who opt to wait post weaning, binders can be a significant part of a gender affirming postpartum experience.

Like top surgery guidance prenatally, guidance for top surgery postpartum is often lacking, inconsistent, and falsely assumes that transmasc and non-binary folks prefer not to infant bodyfeed.

Weaning & PMADs

"I wasn't informed on chestfeeding or binding and I couldn't manage it all. I wanted top surgery soon and formula is fine. The doctor told me to just stop, which was a relief. I weaned and was a wreck for a long time. I wasn't prepared."

There is evidence of links between chestfeeding cessation and the occurrence of PMADs.

A popular lactation website [one of heteronorm/cis language] endorsed by many lactation professionals offers this information: An early and fast weaning process may result in sudden hormonal shifts. The faster the weaning process, the more abrupt the shift in hormone levels, and the more likely that one will experience adverse effects.

Assumptions & Betrayal

"My postpartum doula who was also queer, told me that I didn't really need to chestfeed when things got really hard. She meant well but I felt betrayed."

Transmasc and non-binary individuals have reported being counseled out of infant body feeding by community members, therapists, birth professionals, and friends/family. Some have stated that there is an assumption that this is somehow too emotionally difficult for them. Infant feeding is hard for many and informed support akin to the goals of the individual is proven to improve rates of infant feeding experiences and outcomes, lower instances of PMADs and contribute to an overall smoother postpartum experience.

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