Trans Women Produce Excellent Milk, Scientists Say

Health experts at a National Health Services (NHS) Trust in the UK have said that breast milk produced by trans women is just as good for a baby as the milk produced by a birthing mother, The Telegraph reports.

The assertion was made in a leaked letter from the University of Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust, which defended the practice of trans women receiving a hormone and drug-based therapy to induce breastfeeding. The milk that a trans woman produces as a result of this treatment is "comparable to that produced following the birth of a baby," the letter stated, as quoted by The Telegraph.

That trans women can breastfeed effectively is certainly not a revelation. Beyond anecdotal accounts, it's been documented in medical literature. But with the letter's leak, the practice has once again become a matter of controversy in the UK in particular — as is seemingly every other aspect of trans people's existence.

In order to produce milk, trans women and others that were assigned male at birth can take gender-affirming hormones like estradiol, a form of estrogen, in combination with drugs like domperidone, which promote the production of prolactin, a hormone responsible for producing milk.

Many cis women who struggle to breastfeed also take domperidone in order to lactate. The use of the drug this way forms a key part of what's called the Newman-Goldfarb Protocols for Induced Lactation, a process that imitates the body's hormonal changes that follow a pregnancy.

It's worth noting that the manufacturer recommends against using domperidone for this purpose due to potential side effects in the breastfeeding child. Still, many doctors believe it's safe and prescribe the drug off-label. And so far, the handful of studies that exist on the topic seem to bear out those doctors' instincts.

Summarizing the burgeoning literature, an article in the LactMed database provided by the National Institutes for Health noted that "no adverse effects have been found in a limited number of published cases of breastfed infants whose mothers were taking domperidone." The NHS Trust in its recent letter agreed that using the drug this way is safe, according to The Telgraph.

Despite the benefits that hormonal therapies to induce breastfeeding have for both cis and trans women, the practice has been hit with backlash — in the context, of course, of a global onslaught of transphobia.

Spearheading that backlash, Lottie Moore from the thinktank Policy Exchange which leaked the letter, said the NHS Trust "is unbalanced and naïve in its assertion that the secretions produced by a male on hormones can nourish an infant in the way a mother's breast milk can," per The Telegraph.

Other critics quoted by The Telegraph were more blunt, with one stating that "male people, however they identify or describe themselves, cannot breastfeed" — which simply isn't true, even for cis men.

Perhaps tellingly, this kind of vitriol wasn't directed against the practice of medically induced breastfeeding when its benefits were largely framed around cis women and surrogate mothers, as Slate noted during a previous bout of backlash.

Weathering the outrage, the NHS Trust has since doubled down on its stance.

"We stand by the facts of the letter and the cited evidence supporting them," it said in a statement, per The Telegraph.

More on transgender people: Anti-Trans Laws Force Engineer to Quit Job Helping NASA With Moon Missions