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The University of Southampton
Southampton Ethics Centre

Should we talk about the ‘benefits’ of breastfeeding? The significance of the default in representations of infant feeding Seminar

13:00 - 14:00
2 November 2017
Somers Lecture Theatre, level A, IDS Building, SGH

For more information regarding this seminar, please telephone Julia Budd on 023 8120 5460 or email .

Event details

Human Development and Health Seminar Series

The phrase 'breast is best' is controversial for many reasons, but one perhaps surprising criticism comes from breastfeeding advocates. The claim is this way of talking mistakenly represents breastfeeding as a departure from the norm, when in fact breastfeeding should be treated as the default for infant feeding. Breastfeeding mothers have an interest in representing breastfeeding as the default, for example to counteract criticism of public breastfeeding. I connect this issue to an increasing trend for advice for new mothers to warn that feeding babies formula is harmful rather than stating that breastfeeding is beneficial. I argue (1) whether we frame infant feeding decisions in terms of harming or benefit, protection or risk matters because these distinctions are generally morally significant and thus (2) holding that those who decide to use formula “harm”, “risk harm” to their babies or describing formula feeding as “dangerous” is likely to contribute to guilt associated with formula feeding and thus to undermine the wellbeing of vulnerable women. However, (3) these distinctions do not apply easily to infant feeding decisions, in part because of difficulties in determining whether we should treat breastfeeding as the default for infant feeding. I show that neither the descriptive ‘facts of the matter’ nor moral considerations provides an easy answer before providing some suggestions for how to respond to these considerations.

Speaker information

Dr Fiona Woollard,Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Southampton

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