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Now even breasts become part of political debate

WASHINGTON – Is breastfeeding natural? Yes and no, says a paper in the prestigious journal Pediatrics.

It may be “natural” to breastfeed, concludes the treatise, but the authors warn against use of the term by government officials or doctors because it might inadvertently support biologically deterministic arguments about the roles of men and women in the family, for example, that women should be the primary caretakers of children.

Ironically, one of the authors of the paper in the peer-reviewed journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, previously wrote a book titled, “Back to the Breast: Natural Motherhood and Breastfeeding in America.”

No word on whether she has forgone accepting royalties on the title released only last year.

The paper, “Unintended Consequences of Invoking the ‘Natural’ in Breastfeeding Promotion,” was authored by Anne Barnhill, a Ph.D and assistant professor in the department of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, and Jessica Martucci, a fellow (no apology for the gender-oriented title) in the same department who describes herself as a “feminist” historian of “sci/tech/med” and a “twitterstorian.”

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“Promoting breastfeeding as ‘natural’ may be ethically problematic, and, even more troublingly, it may bolster this belief that ‘natural’ approaches are presumptively healthier,” the authors say. “This may ultimately challenge public health’s aims in other contexts, particularly childhood vaccination. … Coupling nature with motherhood, however, can inadvertently support biologically deterministic arguments about the roles of men and women in the family (for example, that women should be the primary caretakers of children). Referencing the ‘natural’ in breastfeeding promotion, then, may inadvertently endorse a controversial set of values about family life and gender roles, which would be ethically inappropriate. … Whatever the ethics of appealing to the natural in breastfeeding promotion, it raises practical concerns. The ‘natural’ option does not align consistently with public health goals.”

Clear?

Not to those skeptical about some mandatory vaccinations. In the “natural” and holistic health community, the paper, published in March, got some heat.

Martucci took to Twitter to suggest critics were motivated by “misogyny.”

“Honestly,” she tweeted, “what I’ve learned from all this is just how misogynistic public discourse really is. Speaking publicly is still a radical act.”

Blogger David Cole decided to engage Martucci in dialogue.

“In the paper, you (and your co-author) explore the risks of coupling the word ‘natural’ with breastfeeding and motherhood,” he wrote. “Yet your own book is titled ‘Back to the Breast: Natural Motherhood and Breastfeeding in America.’ Have your views on using the word ‘natural’ in conjunction with breastfeeding and motherhood changed since you wrote your book? If given the opportunity to craft a new title, would you drop the word ‘natural’?”

She responded: “In our paper, my co-author and I critique the use of ‘natural’ by health authorities, but do not critique individuals for using the word ‘natural’ to describe breastfeeding or motherhood. … The point of our ‘Pediatrics’ paper was to critique the role of public health campaigns in relying too heavily on a particular ideological construction of breastfeeding as natural in order to put pressure on mothers, pressure that we feel is unethical given the lack of support for mothers in the U.S., the physical and emotional burdens that breastfeeding can impose for some women. In our paper, we do not challenge or question the choices of individuals or even lay groups to promote breastfeeding as natural, instead our critique was very narrowly focused on physicians, other clinicians and public health authorities who promote breastfeeding using this ideologically-loaded language.”

Cole was incredulous.

“My point is that she’s saying one thing in a book directed at ‘health policy makers,’ while, at the same time, advising them to avoid saying that same thing to ‘patients’ and ‘the public,'” he wrote in his critique. “As she says, ‘different intended audiences.’ It’s totally fine to say that breastfeeding is ‘natural,’ as long as your audience is ‘historians’ and ‘officials.’ But the word must not be used when dealing with patients and the public. She understands that breastfeeding is ‘natural,’ but she is asking doctors and public health officials to stop saying so in the presence of their patients, in order to promote an ideological agenda she deems more important than a factual dialogue between doctor and patient. Doctors have to stop speaking a truth so that patients will stop knowing a truth, and if that sits poorly with you, you’re a misogynist.”

“The Death of Free Speech: How Our Broken National Dialogue Has Killed the Truth and Divided America” examines how the news media has created arbitrary, biased and illogical rules for determining what can and cannot be said in the public arena.