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Examining the use of ‘natural’ in breastfeeding promotion: ethical and practical concerns
  1. Jessica Martucci1,
  2. Anne Barnhill2
  1. 1 Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
  2. 2 Berman Institute of Bioethics, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Anne Barnhill, Berman Institute of Bioethics, Baltimore MD, USA; anne.barnhill{at}


References to the ‘natural’ are common in public health messaging about breastfeeding. For example, the WHO writes that ‘Breast milk is the natural first food for babies’ and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a breastfeeding promotion campaign called ‘It’s only natural’, which champions breastfeeding as the natural way to feed a baby. This paper critically examines the use of ‘natural’ language in breastfeeding promotion by public health and medical bodies. A pragmatic concern with selling breastfeeding as ‘natural’ is that this may reinforce the already widespread perspective that natural options are presumptively healthier, safer and better, a view that works at cross-purposes to public health and medicine in other contexts. An additional concern is that given the history of breastfeeding in the USA, ‘natural’ evokes specific and controversial conceptions of gender and motherhood.

  • ethics
  • children
  • family
  • newborns and minors
  • public health ethics

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  • Contributors Both authors participated in conceiving of the paper, drafting sections of it and revising the entire paper. They also gave final approval of the paper and agree to be accountable for all aspects of the work.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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