Breastfeeding and defeasible duties to benefit

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For many women experiencing motherhood for the first time, the message they receive is clear: mothers who do not breastfeed ought to have good reasons not to; bottle feeding by choice is a failure of maternal duty. We argue that this pressure to breastfeed arises in part from two misconceptions about maternal duty: confusion about the scope of the duty to benefit and conflation between moral reasons and duties. While mothers have a general duty to benefit, we argue that this does not imply a duty to carry out any particular beneficent act. Therefore, the expectation that mothers should breastfeed unless they have sufficient countervailing reasons not to is morally unwarranted. Recognising the difference between reasons and duties can allow us to discuss the benefits of breastfeeding and the importance of supporting mothers who wish to breastfeed without subjecting mothers who bottle feed to guilt, blame and failure.

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