Breastfeeding…who says it’s not natural?!

I woke up this morning and as I do everyday, scanned the media outlets for news that would be of interest to you the reader.  Most of the time I am searching for items of interest that I hope will get people thinking about ways to improve care but once in awhile I come across something that elicits a strong emotional reaction and today was the day.

CNN released the following article today entitled

Are there unintended consequences to calling breast-feeding ‘natural’?

The premise of the article is that by reinforcing that breastfeeding is natural we may hamper initiatives to increase vaccination in many parts of the world and in particular North America I would think.  The idea here is that if we firmly entrench in women’s heads that natural is better then this will strengthen the conviction that we should not vaccinate with these “man made” unnatural vaccines.  I am sorry to be dramatic about this but I think the argument is ridiculous and in fact dangerous.

The Definition of Natural

“existing in nature and not made or caused by people : coming from nature”

From the Mirriam Webster dictionary

Breastfeeding satisfies this definition pure and simple and there is nothing that anyone should say to suggest otherwise no matter what the motive is.  The shift from formula  to breastfeeding has been predicated on this notion and a plethora of literature on the subject demonstrating reductions in such things as infections of many kinds, diarrhoea, atopic disease in the first year of life as examples.  In my world of premature infants additional reductions in NEC, bloody stools, have been seen and more recently in some cases improved neurodevelopmental outcomes.

In this case of irresponsible journalism a better approach if you were wanting to use the natural argument with respect to vaccines is to promote just that.

Vaccines are Natural

Someone will no doubt challenge me on this  point as it would be a fair comment to say that there are artificial substances added to vaccines but there is no question the organisms that we vaccinate against are natural.

Think about this for a moment.  All of the vaccines out there are meant to protect us against organisms that exists in NATURE.  These are all bacteria or viruses that have likely existed on this planet of ours for millions of years.  They are found everywhere and in many cases what we are doing when we give such vaccines are providing parts of or weakened versions of these natural organisms in order for us the human to mount a protective response.

This protective response is NATURAL.  If we didn’t vaccinate and came across the fully virulent pathogen in NATURE our bodies would do exactly what they do when a vaccine is given to us.  Our immune system would mount a response to the organism and start producing protective antibodies.  Unfortunately in many cases this will be too little too late as the bacteria or virus will cause it’s damage before we have a chance to rid ourselves of this natural organism.

This is the basis of vaccination.  Allow our bodies a chance to have protection against an organism that we haven’t been exposed to yet so that when it comes we have a legion of antibodies just waiting to attach this natural organism.

CNN Didn’t Get It Right


In the article which is based on a paper entitled the Unintended Consequences of Invoking the “Natural” in Breastfeeding Promotion by Jessica Martucci &  Anne Barnhill the authors admit that the number of families that this actually would impact is small.  the question then is why publish this at all.  Steering families away from thinking that breastfeeding is natural is wrong.  Plain and simple.

If the goal is to improve vaccination rates, focus on informing the public about how NATURAL vaccinations actually are and don’t drag breastfeeding down in order to achieve such goals.

Hopefully someone out there linked to CNN will see this as this is one upset blogger at the moment…


3 thoughts on “Breastfeeding…who says it’s not natural?!

  1. In my NICU I do not have newbors on formula.I use only mother’s or donor milk. Every months I have more nad more very tiny newborns ( with birth weight less than 750g) who are discharge home on breast


  2. Actually, let’s list the full definition of natural here from Merriam Webster:

    Simple Definition of natural

    : existing in nature and not made or caused by people : coming from nature

    : not having any extra substances or chemicals added : not containing anything artificial

    : usual or expected

    By all three counts, breastfeeding IS natural. It is ludicrous to suggest otherwise. By these definitions, vaccines are not, however, natural. Vaccines do have extra substances and chemicals added (adjuvants, preservatives, etc.) so they would not meet this definition. They also do not exist in nature (natural immunity does when we have encountered a virus and created our own antibodies, but not injected substances) and whether they’re usual or expected could be argued either way.

    I’m not getting into a vaccination debate at all here, but I would *not* agree that a better campaign would be to say that vaccines are natural as well. Breastfeeding is natural. Vaccines are not. Whether they’re good or not, they’re not natural and it’s disingenuous to suggest otherwise. Let’s just keep the issues separate, and not try to trash everything natural in an attempt to win vaccine arguments.


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