The introduction of gender-neutral terms for mothers – including "pregnant people", "lactating parents" and "birth givers" – presents a huge risk for women, new research has revealed.
A study conducted by 10 women's health researchers from Australia, the US, Europe and Asia have argued that replacing words like "breastfeeding" with gender-neutral phrases reduces protection of the "mother-infant bond" and undermines breastfeeding, according to the yet-to-be-released report obtained by the Sydney Morning Herald.
The publication claims while the authors understand the reasoning for word changes to be more inclusive, conceding "the penalty for nonconformity with gender roles can be high", they ultimately argue against references to the sex of mothers changing in research and medical information.
"Desexing the language of female reproduction has been done with a view to being sensitive to individual needs and as beneficial, kind, and inclusive," the paper reads.
"Yet, this kindness has delivered unintended consequences that have serious implications for women and children."
The debate surrounding gender-neutral terminology in an official capacity has been swirling in Australia – and around the world – for some time.
In March last year, the Australian Senate passed a motion brought by One Nation to ban the use of "distorted" gender-neutral language such as "chestfeeding" in official government materials.
One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts put forward the motion in the Upper House, with the Morrison government voting to approve the ban.
At the time, Tasmanian Liberal Senator Jonathon "Jonno" Duniam outlined the government's position before the vote.
"The government supports the rights of individuals to make use of any pronouns or descriptors they prefer, while encouraging respect for the preferences of others," he said.
"The government will use language in communications that is appropriate for the purpose of those communications and is respectful of its audiences."
The Gender-Inclusive Handbook, published in 2020 by the university's Gender Institute, likewise said the terms "mother" and "father" should be replaced with "gestational" and "nongestational" parent.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports a co-author of the new paper and former president of the Australian College of Midwives, Jenny Gamble, explained why sex-based language was important.
"Confusing the idea of gender identity and the reality of sex risks adverse health consequences and deeper and more insidious discrimination against women," she said.
"Sex [a reproductive category], gender [a societal role], and gender identity [an inner sense of self] are not synonymous but are being treated as if they are.
"Pregnancy, birth and early motherhood are fundamentally sexed issues, not gendered. Pregnant and birthing women and new mothers and their infants have unique vulnerabilities and also require protection."