Academics called breastfeeding ‘ethically problematic’ because it endorses ‘gender roles.’ Their view is gaining traction.
Benjamin Zeisloft, Campus Reform
Hospitals in the United Kingdom have begun using the term “chestfeeding” instead of “breastfeeding,” just years after U.S. academics published a study in which they argued that the promotion of breastfeeding as the “natural” way to feed a child has many negative societal effects.
In early 2021, Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals in the United Kingdom drew international criticism for swapping the word “breastfeeding” for “chestfeeding” in an attempt to be more inclusive of transgender individuals.
Likewise, Harvard Medical School referred to women as “birthing people” in an effort to “include those who identify as non-binary or transgender,” as Campus Reform previously reported.
“We are concerned about breastfeeding promotion that praises breastfeeding as the ‘natural’ way to feed infants,” wrote Jessica Martucci of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and Anne Barnhill of Johns Hopkins University in the journal Pediatrics. “Promoting breastfeeding as ‘natural’ may be ethically problematic, and, even more troublingly, it may bolster this belief that ‘natural’ approaches are presumptively healthier.”
Martucci and Barnhill explained that in the 1950s and 1960s, a movement of women sought to promote breastfeeding in the wake of advances in medical formula technology — an approach that the researchers find “ethically problematic” because it may “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,” they state.
The researchers were also concerned that such rhetoric “may ultimately challenge public health’s aims in other contexts, particularly childhood vaccination.”
As recently as 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics reaffirmed its stance that “breastfeeding and human milk are the normative standards for infant feeding and nutrition.”
“Given the documented short- and long-term medical and neurodevelopmental advantages of breastfeeding, infant nutrition should be considered a public health issue and not only a lifestyle choice,” said the organization.
Campus Reform reached out to Martucci and Barnhill for comment; this article will be updated accordingly.
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