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Breastfeeding: Ethics and evidence

02 November 2018
Volume 26 · Issue 11


The evidence shows that breastfeeding is best for babies, but is it a mother's moral duty to breastfeed? George Winter unpicks the arguments for and against

In 1959, the chemist and novelist Charles Percy Snow delivered the Rede Lecture at the University of Cambridge. Entitled ‘The Two Cultures’, he highlighted mutual incomprehension between science and the humanities. Considering this, Clive James (2007: 117) observed that such a dispute could only have one winner because ‘[i]t could take place only in language—on the territory, that is, that the humanities have occupied throughout history.’

I disagree. Scientific reach extends beyond experiment and symbols, and many scientists use language to make compelling arguments that are often more lucid than those arising from the humanities. Wiessinger (1996), addressing breastfeeding, commented that our misuse of language often subverts good intentions, noting that health comparisons use biological norms, not cultural ones. She cited smokers as having higher rates of illness than non-smokers (biological norm), and because breastfeeding is the biological norm, it is not that breastfed babies are ‘healthier’; it is that artificially fed babies are ill more often and more seriously.

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