Viewpoint of Alternative Science: Breast-feeding is Unnatural

Cathy Areu was a guest on Tucker Carlson Friday night. She argued that breastfeeding was not natural because it put too much pressure on a woman to feed her baby. She insisted that it was natural for a dad to feed the infant formula. She referenced a recent “study”.

I watched the astonished expression on Tucker’s face as she made her case. Lol.

The argument was so bizarre that I looked for the study on-line. Ms. Areu was referring to an article that was published by Heatstreet on April 26, 2017. The article, “Study: Describing Breastfeeding as ‘Natural’ Is Unethical Because It Reinforces Gender Roles” was written by Jillian Kay Melchior. She writes:

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

I checked the link to Pediatrics and found the opinion piece that was published on April 1, 2016, a little over a year ago. Not a recent study.  The article,  “Unintended Consequences of Invoking the “Natural” in Breastfeeding  Promotion,” * was written by Jessica Martucci and Anne Barnhill.

They wrote: 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.

This perspective really startled me. I looked for other viewpoints. CNN had an article about the study and I was grateful that they included an opposing view. Carina Storrs authored the piece entitled, “Are there unintended consequences to calling breast-feeding ‘natural’?”

In her article she included this quote: “(The authors) are using this article to label the breast-feeding group in a very negative way, and to equate breast-feeding with people who don’t want to take immunizations,” said Eidelman, who was lead author of the 2012 AAP policy statement on breast-feeding.

It was troubling to me that, in the Pediatrics article, assumptions were being made about women who breast-feed and women who have questions about vaccines. It is true that some parents are reluctant to vaccinate their child because their child was injured by a vaccine.   Some have studied the issue and are concerned about the risks.    They have   legitimate concerns. The vaccine controversy will not go away by labeling people and denigrating them.

Wow! Over the next few hours I kept thinking about the dismissal of breastfeeding. We know that breast milk has immune factors that formula cannot provide. We know that it is most easily digested and absorbed by an infant. It is recommended that a mother breastfeed her infant for six months to avoid food allergies. The benefits are too many to enumerate.

Breastfeeding

I found that I agreed with one statement that Ms. Areu made. Breastfeeding is hard. The first time a woman breastfeeds she needs support and guidance. But her labor and birth experience have also had an impact .

My observation as a labor/delivery nurse is that the interventions that take place in the hospital can influence the breastfeeding experience. Medications given to induce labor and for pain management can have negative side effects. Women that have cesarean sections have a more difficult time establishing breastfeeding.

How soon the baby is placed in the mother’s arms (hopefully skin to skin in the first hour of life) influences early success in breastfeeding. If the mother has been traumatized by the manner of birth, breastfeeding may be more difficult to establish.

As I tried to understand the upside-down way of thinking that Ms. Areu was demonstrating I wondered what has happened to science.

Are we being asked to consider all medical interventions as natural? When we observe normal physiology and gain practical insights, are these unnatural?

I am sad because the turmoil in science and medicine is only making it hard on parents. My hope is that the medical community will listen to the concerns parents have and treat them with respect.

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*Jessica Martucci and Ann Barnhill, “Unintended Consequences of Invoking the “Natural” in Breastfeeding Promotion”, PEDIATRICS Vol. 137 No. 4 April 01, 2016