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April 26 2017

Study: Describing Breastfeeding as ‘Natural’ Is Unethical Because It Reinforces Gender Roles

via Heat Street
by Jillian Kay Melchior

It’s “ethically inappropriate” for government and medical organizations to describe breastfeeding as “natural” because the term enforces rigid notions about gender roles, claims a new study in Pediatrics.

“Coupling nature with motherhood… can inadvertently support biologically deterministic arguments about the roles of men and women in the family (for example, that women should be the primary caretaker,” the study says.

The study notes that in recent years, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, and several state departments of health have all promoted breastfeeding over bottle-feeding, using the term “natural.”

“Referencing the ‘natural’ in breastfeeding promotion… may inadvertently endorse a set of values about family life and gender roles, which would be ethically inappropriate,” the study says.

Unless such public-service announcements “make transparent the ‘values and beliefs that underlie them,’” they should quit describing breastfeeding as “natural.”

But the study’s authors, Jessica Martucci and Anne Barnhill, clearly have in mind an alternative set of “values and beliefs,” about which which they are not transparent.

It’s unclear whether they’re worried about how traditional female gender roles may limit women’s progress in the workforce, or whether this is part of the discussionabout whether conventional views about motherhood exclude transgender people. Or perhaps this is just another example of how the progressive obsession with gender and sexuality has permeated all fields of academic study.

Regardless, Martucci and Barnhill mask their agenda by also making the unconvincing secondary argument that describing breastfeeding as “natural” fuels the anti-vaccine movement.

When public-service announcements praise breastfeeding as “natural,” Martucci and Barnhill argue, the implication is that manufactured or mass-produced products are questionable or dangerous—so these promotions may unintentionally encourage parents to reject scientific progress elsewhere.

“If doing what is ‘natural’ is ‘best’ in the case of breastfeeding, how can we expect mothers to ignore that powerful and deeply persuasive worldview when making choices about vaccination?” they write.

There’s certainly an assertive worldview woven throughout this paper, though we find it neither powerful nor deeply persuasive.

— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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