Family Matters

Facebook and Breast-Feeders Face Off Again Over Nursing Photos

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There’s no doubt that breasts are sexualized in our society, even when they’re doing what they’re designed for — feeding babies. And that’s not sitting well with breast-feeding advocates who are angry that Facebook has once again removed photos of mothers nursing their babies.

In the latest bit of censorship, last month Facebook removed breast-feeding images from Earth Mama Angel Baby’s Facebook page. “Babies get hungry,” explained a post on Earth Mama’s website. “And breasts feed babies. We don’t consider either photo obscene. Each shows a human baby having lunch.

“P.S. Mama’s NOT happy. She doesn’t consider herself a militant. Or a lactivist. But now she’s mad. Brace yourself.” (More on Time.com: Milk Banks vs. Milk Swaps: Breast Milk’s Latest Controversy)

Peggy O’Mara, editor of Mothering magazine, decried the move in a lengthy blog post that called for readers to post pictures of themselves nursing on their personal Facebook pages “if you agree with me that breast-feeding is normal and not obscene”:

Breast-feeding is not just a lifestyle choice; it is an issue of life and death: 4,000 babies a day die worldwide from lack of breast-feeding. If we are to become a breast-feeding culture in the U.S., we must see breast-feeding, and we must see it as normal. We need the support of social institutions like Facebook in order for breast-feeding to flourish in the U.S. Until they step up, we must continue to challenge them.

According to Babble.com, this back-and-forth over boobies dates to 2007. Over the years, Facebook’s policy regarding breast-feeding photos has evolved: at first they were removed if they showed an entire breast, then the social-media giant got more anatomically specific, calling into question as “pornographic” those photos that showed a nipple or areola. From Babble:

Facebook is such a huge phenomenon, and for it to stigmatize breast-feeding and demean women is a huge blow to breast-feeding and America’s generally puritanical attitude about such things.

The Facebook breast-feeding photo policy is not sitting well with hundreds of thousands of others, many of whom have expressed their outrage by joining a Facebook group called “Hey, Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene!” To date, there are nearly 260,000 members.

The group, founded by San Diego mom Kelli Roman, urges Facebook to change its obscenity policy. “We expect you to realize that nursing moms everywhere have a right to show pictures of their babies eating, just like bottle-fed babies have a right to be seen,” their petition reads. “In an effort to appease the closed-minded, you are only serving to be detrimental to babies, women, and society.”

It’s curious that Facebook pulls breast-feeding photos when several states even have laws explicitly supporting the rights of women to feed their babies in public. You may not be able to post a particular photo on Facebook, yet if your baby should tug up your shirt in the middle of a bustling shopping mall, dozens of unsuspecting people who had not chosen to seek out images of breast-feeding — as people who visit the pages of various Facebook breast-feeding groups ostensibly have — would be confronted with a real live breast. Scary. (More on Time.comPumping at Work: The Government Asks Working Moms How They Do It)

It’s unclear to me what makes people so uncomfortable about seeing women feed their babies, but even other mothers can freak out. I once discreetly nursed one of my children during story time at a science museum; a mom in the row behind me took offense at the sight of my back, which was slightly exposed. “There are children in here,” she hissed. “What am I supposed to tell my son?”

“Tell him that a mother is feeding her baby,” I answered.

An e-mail response I received from a Facebook spokesperson, Simon Axten, to a query about why Facebook removed the Earth Mama photo stated that the company’s policies don’t prohibit photos of breast-feeding.

“Our policies prohibit nudity and are designed to ensure Facebook remains a safe and trusted environment for everyone, including the many children (over the age of 13) who use the service.  In rare cases, we may remove breast-feeding photos because the mother is naked.  However, we do not take action on the vast majority of these photos, even when they are reported to us, because there is usually no nudity involved.

Bettina Forbes, co-founder of Best for Babes, a nonprofit that works to eliminate barriers to breast-feeding, expressed frustration that Facebook doesn’t seem to care what mothers think. In January, for example, Facebook pulled a breast-feeding support group’s entire page; The New York Times then blogged  about it. Facebook subsequently reinstated the page. (More on Time.comBreast-Feeding: It Takes a Village to Help Moms Succeed)

“That is the pattern:  they don’t respond to hundreds of thousands of moms complaining, only to negative press,” says Forbes.

What will happen this time?

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