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Study Warns Against Replacing The Word 'Mothers' With 'Birth-Givers'

Study Warns Against Replacing The Word 'Mothers' With 'Birth-Givers'

Researchers have argued how such language can lead to ‘unintentional consequences that have serious implications for women and children’

Women’s health researchers have warned against using gender-neutral terms like ‘pregnant people’, ‘chestfeeding’ and ‘birth givers’, arguing that it risks dehumanising women. 

In the paper, which is due to be published this week in the journal Frontiers in Global Women’s Health, the researchers express concerns about such language, saying it can lead to ‘unintentional consequences that have serious implications for women and children’. 

The study says: “Desexing the language of female reproduction has been done with a view to being sensitive to individual needs and beneficial, kind and inclusive. 

“Yet, this kindness has delivered unintended consequences that have serious implications for women and children.” 

The global team of researchers, who hail from institutions including King’s College London and Harvard in Massachusetts claim that consequences could include ‘decreasing overall inclusivity’ and ‘dehumanising women’. 

They say that referring to pregnant women as a 'gestational carrier' or 'birther' marginalises their humanity, and harks back to 'sexist' ideas of women as failed men.


The team also argue that gender-neutral language in this context 'works against the plain language principle of health communication and risks reducing inclusivity for vulnerable groups by making communications more difficult to understand', and that the terminology can end up being confusing.

They add: “What does the phrase ‘women and birthing people’ actually mean? This construction could be interpreted in a literal way as meaning that ‘women’ are not people.” 

It follows news that an NHS trust would be introducing terms like ‘human milk’ and ‘chestfeeding’ to help boost inclusivity, meaning staff have now been asked to use the language alongside – but not instead of – traditional terms to ensure all groups are represented. 

Last year, Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust (BSUH) became the first in the country to use what it calls the ‘additive use of gender-inclusive language’. 

A policy document on the trust’s website explained how the approach involves ‘using gender-neutral language alongside the language of womanhood, in order to ensure that everyone is represented and included’. 

It added: “Gender identity can be a source of oppression and health inequality. 

“We are consciously using the words ‘women’ and ‘people’ together to make it clear that we are committed to working on addressing health inequalities for all those who use our services.” 

Other terms being used include ‘maternal and parental’ or ‘maternal/parental’ in place of ‘maternal’ and ‘woman or person’ in place of 'woman'. 

Instead of ‘breastmilk’, staff are also encouraged to consider using ‘human milk’, ‘breast/chestmilk’ or ‘milk from the feeding mother or parent’. 

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Topics: World News, Health