Research Gone Wild: Moral Fervor

What does the latest science really have to say about the benefits of breastfeeding?
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(Photo: iStockPhoto)

(Photo: iStockPhoto)

WHAT WAS SAID

In an op-ed for the New York Times, political scientist Courtney Jung railed against the mounting social pressure on new mothers to breastfeed, "even as medical research has begun to report that the effects ... are probably modest." Jung cites "sobering" research from McGill University's Michael Kramer that found breastfeeding doesn’t protect against obesity, asthma, and other illnesses.

BUT HERE'S THE THING

The problem is that breastfeeding does protect against infection—a benefit Jung sees as trivial. But that protection likely saves a very non- trivial hundreds of thousands of infants in the developing world each year, according to Kramer. There's also strong evidence that breastfeeding accelerates cognitive development.

THE TAKEAWAY

The crux of Jung's argument is that breastfeeding advocacy is backed not by science, but "moral fervor"; it should be a choice, she argues, not a moral obligation. But while formula feeding isn't a life or death matter for most, Kramer says, it still belongs in the same category as smoking while pregnant or not using an infant car seat. Women should have total autonomy over their bodies, but Jung withheld important information from them in her own moral fervor.

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