Time to stop calling breast-feeding ‘natural’

Time to stop calling breast-feeding ‘natural’

Public health advocates often use the phrase natural in their attempts to promote breast-feeding. As a marketing strategy, it’s a shrewd move. Most mothers will feel at least a little bit guilty about going the “unnatural” route and will be too tired to question the speciousness of what’s being implied. But as a public health strategy, this use of natural may not be a very wise move at all.

In a new paper recently published in Pediatrics, bioethicists Jessica Martucci and Anne Barnhill argue that the emphasis on the “natural” aspects of breast-feeding can easily backfire. By endorsing breast-feeding as natural, they say, breast-feeding advocates are reinforcing the idea that natural is A) something that actually exists and B) healthier. By setting up this dichotomy, these pro–breast-feeding campaigns might serve as unintentional fodder for concerns against “unnatural” interventions like vaccinations.

“The idea of the ‘natural’ evokes a sense of purity, goodness, and harmlessness,” Martucci and Barnhill write. “Meanwhile, synthetic substances, products, and technologies mass produced by industry (notably, vaccines) are seen as ‘unnatural’ and often arouse suspicion and distrust. Part of this value system is the perception that what’s natural is safer, healthier, and less risky.”


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