Australia's leading university suggests staff use 'gestational parent' instead of 'mother'

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

Academics at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra have encouraged staff to replace terms like 'breastfeeding', 'mother' and 'father' in an effort to promote 'parent-inclusive language'.

The suggestions have been made within the Gender-Inclusive Handbook Every Voice Project, which was published last year.

It is described as a guide for 'any ANU student or staff member' involved or interested in teaching in order to 'uplift female and gender minority students'. 

Among the recommendations, staff are urged to use the terms 'gestational' or 'birthing' parent rather than 'mother'.

"While many students will identify as 'mothers' or 'fathers', using these terms alone to describe parenthood excludes those who do not identify with gender-binaries," the Handbook notes.

"When discussing childbirth, use the terms 'gestational' or 'birthing' parent rather than 'mother', and the terms 'nongestational' or 'nonbirthing' parent rather than 'father'."

Other recommendations include using the terms 'breast/chest feeding' and 'human/parent's milk', rather than 'breastfeeding' and 'mother's milk' to describe lactation.  

A spokesperson for the ANU told Essential Baby that the document 'is not an official ANU policy or process'.

"This is a guide produced by a research institute that, among its many areas of focus, examines how to improve gender equity and inclusiveness in our society," they said in a statement.


"The guide is an academic output produced by experts who are free to research in their field of expertise under our policies on academic freedom.

This document is not an official ANU policy, process or official prescription to staff and students. It is a guide developed by expert researchers to assist anyone committed to enhancing inclusiveness and diversity."  

The Handbook also provides other recommendations to support student parents, including 'scheduling breaks for students if you have a long class' and to 'be wary of publically confronting a student who arrives late to class'.

Furthermore, the guide outlines strategies to help staff use inclusive language to describe parenthood.

"Do not worry if you make a mistake, simply acknowledge it and correct yourself. Language habits take practice to overcome, and students respect the efforts you make to be inclusive."

The guide comes after a hospital in the UK released new language instructions for perinatal care last week, instructing midwives to stop using the term 'breastfeeding' and replace it with 'chestfeeding'.