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Doctors say describing breastfeeding as "natural" is fuelling anti-vaxxers.

There is a call today to stop calling breastfeeding “natural”.

A surprising call from respected members of the medical profession. Framed with good intent, but a call that might leave many women, like me, wondering whether they just think we are all stupid.

Its been prompted by an (unproven) link between the use of the phrase “natural” in respect to breastfeeding and the anti-vaccination movement, who claim that  latching on to the notion that natural is better.

It came from an article in the journal Pediatrics. The authors ask health professionals to stop saying that breastfeeding is natural as doing so, they claim, gives the impression that natural parenting practices are healthier.

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If we hammer home that breastfeeding is the best because it is natural then we could be giving the impression it’s best to avoid drugs. Via IStock.

In the article, Unintended Consequences of Invoking the “Natural” in Breastfeeding Promotion, Jessica Martucci and Anne Barnhill, Medical Ethics and Health Policy researchers at Penn Medicine started a public campaign to end the positive use of the word natural, claiming that it is associated with such "problematic" practices as home birth, homeschooling and the rejection of GMO foods, and that natural parenting movements are interfering with vaccination efforts.

While it could be easy to dismiss it as politically correct nonsense from a couple of policy researchers far removed from the real world, it is troubling that their call has been today backed up by Brisbane obstetrician and former AMA Queensland president Gino Pecoraro.

He told The Courier Mail:

“If we hammer home that breastfeeding is the best because it is natural then we could be giving the impression it’s best to avoid drugs or medical advances that can save lives — like vaccinations.

“The word ‘natural’ for breastfeeding is judged and makes it seem easy. Breast is best seemed a better message to me.

“If it is possible to breastfeed then it’s the better option but you are not a failure if you can’t do what is ‘supposed to come naturally’.”

Dr Pecoraro is a well respected professional with decades of experience but I have to wonder whether his comments are based on an assumption that people are dumb.

Whereas I like to think that for the most part women are pretty cluey.

Bottle-feeding mums are doing nothing wrong and its their choice and a safe, healthy choice at that. Via IStock.

It’s a big stretch to assume that a woman will be blindly influenced by the anti-vaccination movement with a reference to breastfeeding being natural.

In fact the authors even point out that they still want to ban the word natural in association with breastfeeding even though “there are currently no studies demonstrating a direct link between the promotion of breast-feeding as natural and the rise of parents who don’t vaccinate their children.”

It’s an odd argument.

Breastfeeding IS natural,  by the very definition of the word natural. But further to that it assumes that everything “natural” is better.

In order not to start a debate I feel this is the point I must state the obvious - bottle-feeding mums are doing nothing wrong and its their choice and a safe, healthy choice at that, heck most of us bottle feed at some stage – its just that breastfeeding, if possible should be encouraged for the benefits it provides. It’s a preferable, natural option, but an option of two methods that are both okay.

So we agree that yes, breastfeeding is natural and yes breastfeeding is "best" but why does that then mean that everything natural is better.

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Who has ever thought that?

Most people I know are happily both an advocate of many “natural” ways and still a very big fan of science. Via IStock.

If you spoke to anyone with a natural genetic cancer, a natural autoimmune disease, a naturally occurring life threatening disability, or the naturally occurring diseases that vaccinations eliminate they’d beg to differ.

Who has ever said that everything natural is good for us?

Arsenic for instance.

And who ever said that you can’t dip a toe in both worlds, and that in fact most women do. Most people I know are happily both an advocate of many natural ways and still a very big fan of science.

Our lives are shaped and guided by science and technology - neither, if you take the argument of these policy researchers, which are natural - but all of us, even the anti-vaxxers are the better for it.

Rebecca Judd on how she juggles breastfeeding and the catwalk. Post continues after video..

Breastfeeding advocate Meg, "The Milk Meg" writes in what she calls an “Open Letter to the Journal of Pediatrics” that if the doctors “actually looked at the data and statistics” they would see the opposite is occurring than what they fear.

She says: “the statistics show that MOST of us don’t fall into all of these described, “problematic” practices.“

“So basically” she writes to the authors “what you are worried about literally isn’t happening. Your comments within this article are 100% NOT supported by the evidence.”

Meg says “Are we so afraid of the biological norm and nature that we’re going to only accept science as the normal in our society? I love science, I love evidence based research, I love the medical advances that have come about over time. But I also love nature. I also respect our bodies amazing ability to birth, grow and nurture our children. Why can’t we respect nature while also using science when needed? Why does it have to be one or the other? I’d like to argue that we don’t. I’d like to argue that mothers are not idiots.  I can call breastfeeding natural while also suggesting formula when necessary.  I can call my vaginal births natural even though I had an epidural with my first and a vacuum to help at the end.  I can call organic food natural while giving my kid a sprayed apple and juice from a GMO orange. Today I took ibuprofen and I also breastfed my 3 year old. My milk may have trace amounts of a man made substance in it…but it’s still natural. WE ARE NOT IDIOTIC robots with pea sized brains.”

Meg says "I also respect our bodies amazing ability to birth, grow and nurture our children." Via IStock.

She’s right.

It's nitpicking clap track to assume that women aren’t discerning enough to realise that, while not the be-all-and-end-all in child feeding breastfeeding is natural and yet also know and appreciate that science saves lives and that vaccinations are imperative, important and one of the greatest gifts we could give our children.

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