According to a recent study by Professor Anne Barnhill, who is faculty member of the University of Pennsylvania, and Jessica Martucci, a post-doctoral fellow at that institution, the oft-repeated recommendation that mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies for at least six months after birth is “unethical” even though it is “‘natural’.” A synopsis of their study put the word “natural” in quotation marks. It was published in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics
 
The introduction to the study that was made at the prestigious institution states that the above recommendation is “based on health benefits for mothers and babies, as well as developmental benefits for babies.” However, Barnhill and Martucci claim that a “spate of recent work challenges the extent of these benefits, and ethical criticism of breastfeeding promotion as stigmatizing is also growing.” They wrote that they are “concerned” about the promotion of breastfeeding “as the ‘natural’ way to feed infants.”
 
The researchers contend that the messaging “plays into a powerful perspective that ‘natural’ approaches to health are better,” and “ethically problematic” and “troublingly,” they write, it bolsters the belief that “‘natural’” approaches are presumptively healthier.” They are concerned that the push for “natural” breastfeeding may challenge the aims of public health professions in other contexts, “particularly childhood vaccination.”
 
Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Seminary and Boyce College, said on a podcast this week that researchers Barnhill and Martucci are claiming that breastfeeding reinforces “gender stereotypes.” He said that the study gives evidences that the use of the word “natural, isn’t going to fit with the LGBT revolution. Instead, the word ‘natural’ is going to have to disappear.” Mohler went on to say that even a secular perspective on nature accepts that there is an order to the world that recognizes the roles of distinct sexes in reproduction. 
 
Here follows a synopsis of the study:
 
“Medical and public health organizations recommend that mothers exclusively breastfeed for at least 6 months. This recommendation is based on evidence of health benefits for mothers and babies, as well as developmental benefits for babies. A spate of recent work challenges the extent of these benefits, and ethical criticism of breastfeeding promotion as stigmatizing is also growing.1 Building on this critical work, we are concerned about breastfeeding promotion that praises breastfeeding as the “natural” way to feed infants. This messaging plays into a powerful perspective that “natural” approaches to health are better, a view examined in a recent report by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.2 Promoting breastfeeding as “natural” may be ethically problematic, and, even more troublingly, it may bolster this belief that “natural” approaches are presumptively healthier. This may ultimately challenge public health’s aims in other contexts, particularly childhood vaccination.
 
“The measles outbreak of 2014–2015 sparked intense, condemnatory discussion of vaccine refusal. This public discussion often emphasized that some in the antivaccine camp believe that vaccines cause autism or contain harmful levels of toxins and impurities.”

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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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