Published on 10th November 2021

This blog was updated on 07/11/23

The LGBTQI+ community celebrates Transgender Awareness Week every year in November, and it’s important to keep educating ourselves on the issues that transgender people face and join in on the discussions that affect the trans community on a daily basis. 

Expanding our own knowledge of trans issues is the best way we can support our trans and non-binary friends. If there are things you don’t understand or know about, then it’s okay to ask. The biggest way to show some love is to be an active force, whether that’s reading a blog, listening to a podcast, or standing up for someone in conversation. 

Today, let’s expand our knowledge by learning about chestfeeding

What is chestfeeding?

Chestfeeding is simply the act of feeding your baby milk from your chest. It’s a term often used by transgender and non-binary parents to describe to others how they feed their babies. They may use the term because the words breastfeeding or nursing don’t feel like the right fit, or because they don’t align with their gender or how they identify their anatomy.

Cisgendered women (those whose identity aligns with what they were assigned at birth) might also prefer the term chestfeeding due to past trauma, while for some it’s simply a personal preference. You may also hear chestfeeding referred to as ‘body feeding’.

Chestfeeding vs breastfeeding: what’s the difference?

In short, there’s no real difference between breastfeeding and chestfeeding. In both cases, a baby is being fed human milk directly from the body of their parent. It’s just that while breastfeeding is typically used to describe how a cisgender woman feeds her baby, chestfeeding describes how a transgender or non-binary parent does the same. 

While it’s most commonly associated with transgender men who have had surgery to remove breast tissue, many parents — regardless of their assigned gender — simply prefer to use the term chestfeeding, as it makes no assumptions or judgements about the gender or anatomy of the person doing the feeding. Transgender women can often chestfeed with the help of medication, too. 

Why is it important to use the right language?

As a way of showing respect for non-binary and transgender individuals, we need to normalize the word chestfeeding and get as comfortable with it as we are with breastfeeding. Using it in place of breastfeeding will mean we’re not assuming their gender or anatomy. Chestfeeding isn’t something to be questioned or debated. It’s simply a technique that is used and a phrase that needs to be accepted. So add it to your dictionary now. 

Can you produce milk through chestfeeding?

Okay, so at this point you’d be forgiven for wondering, can a man induce lactation after top surgery? Or can trans women breastfeed? Well, yes. And yes again. All humans are born with mammary glands and hormones to produce milk, although some might require appropriate medications and the support of a doctor.

How easily you lactate also depends on the physical and hormonal changes that you’ve experienced, both during your transition and throughout your pregnancy if you’ve given birth. If lactation isn’t possible for whatever reason (it’s not always possible for a transgender woman to produce milk, for example), chestfeeding may also refer to using a feeding tube attached to the nipple to feed your baby.

How do you start chestfeeding as a trans parent?

Just as you don’t need to have given birth to breastfeed, you don’t need to be assigned female at birth to chestfeed. To induce lactation, the first step is to stimulate and drain the breasts. This may be done through manual expression (which involves massaging the breasts using the hands and fingertips) or the use of an electric breast pump, which does the hard work for you.

Some trans parents — such as transgender women — may also be required to use medications to support the production of breast milk. In any case, it’s best to speak to your GP or healthcare provider, who can advise you on the best method for inducing lactation.

What affects your milk supply as a trans parent?

Everyone’s journey with chestfeeding and breastfeeding is different — while some people might produce a full milk supply, others may require more support with lactation. Many factors will affect how much milk you produce, such as:

Physical changes

Surgery can affect your milk supply, particularly if you’ve gone through top surgery (a procedure usually performed on transgender men or non-binary people to remove breast or chest tissue). During this procedure, milk-making tissue may have been surgically removed or damaged, which can make chestfeeding harder in some cases.


Taking hormones such as testosterone is often an important part of a person’s transition from their assigned gender to their chosen gender. However, testosterone, for example, interferes with the hormone necessary for lactation (prolactin) and can cause a significant decrease in milk supply. However, taking testosterone would not prevent someone from using an at-chest supplementer and having a nursing relationship.


A trans man or non-binary person who has not had top surgery may choose to bind their chest to manage their gender dysphoria. However, doing this for years can affect the glandular tissue, and binding during the immediate postpartum period will increase the risk of blocked ducts and mastitis, which may damage the milk supply. However, some individuals have had success with occasional, careful binding once the milk supply is well-established and regulated. 

Can babies benefit from suckling when milk isn’t produced?

Sure, milk is often the aim of the game, but there are many other benefits of chestfeeding that you might not have considered. It’s called non-nutritive suckling, and is defined as any suckling when there’s no fluid, as opposed to nutritive suckling where the baby gets milk. 

Whilst we assume that chestfeeding involves providing your baby with nourishment, it can be utilized for a number of important reasons, including:

  • Skin-to-skin contact, which is important in establishing a strong bond between baby and parent. 

  • Providing pain relief for teething babies.

  • Improving sucking reflexes and helping in the future when eating and drinking. 

Will chestfeeding cause gender dysphoria?

Gender dysphoria occurs when an individual feels discomfort due to parts of their body that do not match their gender identity, so it’s important to support your partner who is feeding or reach out for support for yourself. For transgender men, any growth (or regrowth after top surgery) of chest tissue during pregnancy or while chestfeeding may bring up extreme feelings of gender dysphoria in some individuals, possibly causing anxiety or even depression. 

It’s important to share your feelings or concerns, and you may consider joining a support group for people with similar experiences.

No matter how you identify, as a parent your primary concern will always be your baby’s health. As a transgender or non-binary parent, chestfeeding — just like breastfeeding — is a way to ensure your baby has access to nutrient-rich breast milk. So go on and add chestfeeding to your vocabulary.