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Not Mom Enough? Transgender Breastfeeding Dad Denied Leadership Role in La Leche League

Trevor MacDonald nurses his son with the help of a Supplemental Nursing System. (Photo Credit: Milk Junkies)

As if breastfeeding isn’t fraught with enough debate already (see also: breastfeeding in uniform, breastfeeding in public, extended breastfeeding), here’s a new twist: a transgendered, breastfeeding man has been told that he can’t lead a La Leche League group because he’s a man.

Trevor MacDonald, 27, of Winnipeg, Canada, was born as a female but transitioned to male at age 23. He underwent a series of hormone treatments and chest contouring surgery.

“I retained my female reproductive organs, but I felt (and still feel) fully male, and anybody seeing me on the street would never guess that I’m anything but a regular dude,” he wrote in Out Magazine. Despite having birthed his baby, and breastfeeding him for 16 months, he firmly identifies himself as a father, rather than a mother.

Mr. MacDonald, who is gay (“yes, I’m that complicated,” he quips), wed his husband before becoming pregnant with their child. Before giving birth naturally he found about a breastfeeding method for women who’ve had mastectomies. The method uses a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS), a thin tube that connects a bottle to the nipple area to either supplement one’s own lactation or to simply create the bonding experience of nursing for those who can’t produce milk.

As a side note, I’ve known adoptive mothers who have used this technique, as well as women who have undergone breast surgery (such as reduction surgery) that affected their milk-producing glands or ducts.

Mr. MacDonald’s main goal, says Yahoo! Shine, was providing his newborn with the kind of nutrients only breast milk can provide. (The World Health Organization recommends breast milk for at least the first six months of a child’s life.) Because his previous chest-contouring surgery affected his milk production, he used the SNS to supplement his own minimal production with lactation donations.

At first, he found it “physically very challenging to latch a baby on when you have next to zero protruding breast tissue,” but with the help of LLL’s services Jacob’s  nursing improved.

“I LOVE La Leche League,” Mr. MacDonald in his blog, Milk Junkies. “Its books, meetings and online resources made breastfeeding possible for me. My experiences with my local LLL chapter have been fantastic and I am extremely grateful for this.”

In fact, Mr. MacDonald’s experience was so positive, he asked to become a La Leche League Leader. In his application, he wrote, “I understand that LLL’s current philosophy emphasizes mother-to-mother support, and that the idea of a breastfeeding dad is entirely new territory.”

La Leche League (LLL) denied Mr. MacDonald’s application, citing the organization’s policy that “Since an LLL Leader is a mother who has breastfed a baby, a man cannot become an LLL Leader.”

LLL’s response letter emphasized that it supports all breastfeeding mothers, but “there may be confusion between whom we support and who can be a Leader.”

Mr. MacDonald still praises the support, encouragement, and information he received from his local LLL chapter, writing in a recent blog post that he always felt “fully welcome at meetings.” Although disappointed in LLL’s decision, Mr. MacDonald says he’s starting a specialized lactation support group “to help support trans guys, queer folks, and allies in their breastfeeding endeavors.”

He plans to use Skype to connect members all around the world. Canadian lactation consultant Mary Lynne Biener will be helping to provide support.

“I have heard from a number of trans men who badly wanted to breastfeed but didn’t manage to do it, and I am convinced that there is real need for this kind of resource,” Mr. MacDonald writes.

He and Ms. Biener have also started a Facebook group, Birthing and Breastfeeding Transmen and Allies.

I’ve only ever been to one LLL meeting myself, so I really can’t speak to the organization’s policies. I went to one meeting when I was struggling with breastfeeding my newborn, preemie twins. Besides the usual breastfeeding support, this particular meeting’s focus was on making nutritious, quick meals for the whole family. When I made mention of using (gasp!) canned, condensed soup in my crock pot, the entire group was visibly horrified.

“The sodium…the sodium,” they whispered, like some kind of mammary Apocalypse Now nightmare.

So, yeah, it wasn’t the group for me.

I’ve given birth three times (to four babies) and each time, there were male nurses who worked in the maternity ward, and I was okay with that. I have to say that ordinarily, I don’t think I’d be all that comfortable with a man coaching me on breastfeeding. I mean, an ordinary man wouldn’t be able to relate to what it feels like to have a correct latch versus an incorrect latch, for example. But clearly, Mr. MacDonald isn’t your typical dad. He’s been breastfeeding his son for 16 months.

While Mr. MacDonald can’t necessarily offer the LLL’s ideal of “mom-to-mom support,” he certainly can offer peer-to-peer support. I’d be okay with Trevor MacDonald coaching me on breastfeeding.

What are your thoughts? Would you be okay with a man coaching you on breastfeeding? What if, like Trevor MacDonald, the man was a breastfeeding dad? Let us know in the comments! 
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