Facebook: Breastfeeding is Normal

Yesterday, I got an email from Melinda Olson at Earth Mama Angel Baby (EMAB). She was outraged at a warning from Facebook that one of the breastfeeding photos on the EMAB page violated their terms of use, which prohibit nudity. We’ve heard this same story over and over again from breastfeeding mothers, and in fact, there have already been several Facebook uprisings about this policy and even demonstrations at Facebook headquarters in downtown Palo Alto, California.

It’s unfortunate that Facebook does not have the courage to change their policy and recognize breastfeeding images as normal. At Mothering we do; we offer a safe haven for breastfeeders. You know that you can post your photos on Mothering where we have a breastfeeding friendly community accustomed to seeing breastfeeding images. The more the better!

The Facebook policy regarding nudity is well intentioned but ignorant. It reminds me of times when stores took Mothering magazine off the shelves if the cover image was of a breastfeeding mother. A patron would complain and a clerk would remove the magazine or cover it up. We would call corporate headquarters and, every time, the company would apologize, uncover the Mothering cover and declare its support for breastfeeding. This is all we are asking of Facebook.

Clearly, the organization is looking through the lens of a bottle-feeding culture. Indeed, it is sure evidence that we live in a bottle-feeding culture when such a powerful institution treats breastfeeding images as obscene. This kind of social censure illustrates yet another obstacle to the US becoming a breastfeeding culture.

Health officials, doctors, and other parents all tell mothers that it is essential to breastfeed their babies; and it is good advice. Yet, US mothers face more obstacles to breastfeeding than women in any other developed country and as a result, are far less successful at it.

While we don’t really need studies to tell us that the milk of our own species is superior to any other infant food, the studies abound. One such study published in 2007 entitled “Breastfeeding and Maternal Health Outcomes in Developed Countries” reviewed over 10,000 scientific papers on the effects of breastfeeding and found that a history of breastfeeding was associated in the infant with a reduction in the risk of acute otitis media, non-specific gastroenteritis, severe lower respiratory tract infections, atopic dermatitis, asthma (young children), obesity, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, childhood leukemia, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and necrotizing enterocolitis.

For mothers, a history of breastfeeding was associated with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, breast and ovarian cancer. Early cessation of breastfeeding or not breastfeeding at all was associated with an increased risk of postpartum depression.

In Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF define optimal infant feeding as six months exclusive breastfeeding with continued breastfeeding (along with age-appropriate complementary foods) for up to two years or longer. This description of optimal infant feeding as exclusive breastfeeding for six months has also been adopted by the American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology, American Academy of Family Physicians, European Union Blueprint on Breastfeeding, International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, and International Pediatric Association among others.

Encouraging breastfeeding is also a key strategy of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in order to meet their goal of improving the health of mothers and their children. To follow the progress of breastfeeding, the CDC has created The Breastfeeding Report Card that tracks the Healthy People 2010 breastfeeding objectives state by state.

Healthy People 2020 is a national health promotion and disease prevention initiative managed by the US Department of Health and Human Services. (HHS) Its breastfeeding objectives build on health initiatives pursued for several decades. The breastfeeding goals for both 2000 and 2010 called for 75% breastfeeding initiation, 50% breastfeeding at six months and 25% at one year. We did not meet these goals in 2000 or in 2010. As of 2005, less than half of US states had met the 75% initiation rate goal of Healthy People, according to the CDC.

Only ten states had met the 50% at six months and in just 12 states 25% of infants were breastfeeding at one year. Eight states, however, Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and Washington did achieve all three of these Healthy People breastfeeding initiation and duration goals.

Our initiation rates lag far behind the norm in the rest of the world. With 86 countries reporting, the US is among only seven countries with breastfeeding initiation rates lower than 85%. 70 of the 86 countries have breastfeeding initiation rates of over 90%.

These rates, however, are for breastfeeding initiation, not the exclusive breastfeeding that the WHO, the AAP and other health organizations recommend. According to provisional numbers from the CDC, while 74.2% of mothers initiated breastfeeding in 2005, only 11.9% were exclusively breastfeeding at six months. This means that most women who breastfeed in the US also use formula, so it is still bottle-feeding not breastfeeding that is the norm in the US.

Despite decades of governmental efforts to encourage breastfeeding, we remain a bottle-feeding culture because we have so few social supports for mothers. Countries with high breastfeeding rates also have strong social supports for women.

The US offers twelve weeks of unpaid maternity leave. In a study conducted at Harvard University in 2004, 163 out of 168 countries included had some kind of national paid maternity leave. The United States, along with Lesotho, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland are the only countries in the survey without paid maternity leave.

In most industrialized countries, working parents are entitled to maternity leave, paternity leave, parental leave and childcare leave. Of 22 countries surveyed in 2006, the period of maternity leave was mostly between 14 and 20 weeks, with payments between 70 and 100 percent of usual earnings. In addition, all EU member states must provide at least three months leave per parent for childcare purposes. Four of the non-EU countries also provide parental leave, the exception being the United States.

So, while women in the US are encouraged to breastfeed, they are offered no paid maternity leave to help make this possible. In addition, there are few legal protections for women who need to pump breastmilk in the workplace in order to keep up their milk supply. And, while many states have laws protecting breastfeeding in public, the US media continue to undermine social progress by portraying breastfeeding in public as a privilege rather than a right. In addition, formula advertising–rampant in the US–has been shown to undermine breastfeeding.

Add to this, the fact that the world’s largest social network classifies breastfeeding images as obscene and one can only wonder that any women in the US breastfeed at all.

Join me in asking Facebook to do the right thing. Facebook is a powerful network that both reflects and creates culture and as such has a duty to be socially responsible. It is socially responsible for Facebook to tangibly support the health agenda of our national government and the international community.

Breastfeeding is not just a lifestyle choice; it is an issue of life and death: 4000 babies a day die worldwide from lack of breastfeeding. If we are to become a breastfeeding culture in the US, we must see breastfeeding, and we must see it as normal. We need the support of social institutions like Facebook in order for breastfeeding to flourish in the US. Until they step up, we must continue to challenge them.

If you agree with me that breastfeeding is normal and not obscene:

Post a breastfeeding photo on your Facebook page as well as on our community forums here at Mothering. Tell us what you think about Facebook censoring breastfeeding photos.

Post a link to this blog on your Facebook page.

Ask Facebook to recognize breastfeeding as normal and to re-classify breastfeeding photos as photos of family life rather than as examples of nudity?




Peggy O’Mara  (101 Posts)

Peggy O’Mara founded Mothering.com in 1995 and is currently its editor-in chief. She was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine from 1980 to 2011. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place, Peggy has lectured and conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League International, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four.

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12 thoughts on “Facebook: Breastfeeding is Normal”

  1. As a mother of 3 under the age of 5 I have been pregnant and /or nursing for the past 6 years. It’s something I am very passionate about and encourage. However I do not think it is appropriate or necessary to post pictures on Facebook or on any other social networking website. As stated it is 100% natural (and best for babies) but I feel it is an intimate bonding experience between my baby and I not the enitre world. It could be compared to sex. That is an intimate time between my husband and I but I don’t need to broadcast it for the world to see. With that being said I Ximena Facebook for setting the rules it has. Bottom line it’s to protect the general public.

  2. On my Facebook page, I have challenged dads to post a link to this blog, too. Babies (and children) were born to be breastfed!

  3. Niki, I’m sorry that breastfeeding, for you, is tantamount to sex.

    What, exactly, is Facebook protecting the general public from?

    The sight of a baby feeding from its mother? God forbid the general public see that, especially since if those people survived infancy and are old enough to be using facebook, chances are THEY DID IT TOO.

    I just……don’t get it. No, you don’t have to take your shirt off and announce through a megaphone that “I’m breastfeeding, everybody look.” But nor do you need to hide it.

    And, since you are equating breastfeeding with sex and romantic intimacy which is private, I assume you’re not okay with any PDA either? No kissing, hugging, holding hands in public? Or pictures of those on facebook? Because, you know, those are intimate too.

  4. I was just reminded of the complete plastic society we live in. And it sickens me. Protecting the public from natures intentions? Oh yes. We should pull all images of any mammal nursing, and photos of anyone drinking milk, no matter what type or by what means..in fact, let’s all live another lie…nothing drinks milk. Yes nursing is intimate. Any nursing mother adores this special bond. But comparing it to that?! U have got to be kidding me! I have not met one single nursing mother who thinks her breasts are sexy and want to flaunt them all over the internet! No! In fact, its not about the breast at all! Surprise! It’s celebrating that bond. *face palm*

  5. Ashley:

    It’s that type of hypocrisy that ultimately hurts the cause. Why is it ok for you to put down the wonderful act of reproduction in the name of your argument? “I

  6. Yes, I can see how it can be considered intimate. Now my question is what do we compare breastfeeding to? Do we compare it to bottle-feeding? Do we compare it to sex/natural birth? And if we compare it to sex/natural birth, why is that? Is it because skin is bared? Is it because a breast is used? Is it due to the fact that at times, the breasts are used during the sex act? Through what lens are we seeing breastfeeding and to add to that, through what lens do we see nudity at all?

    Now, I can see a blanket banning of anything that may show too much HOWEVER, there have been a number of REPORTED images on Facebook that have NOT been deleted, images that are FAR more damaging than seeing a woman breastfeed her child. THAT is part of the concern. It’s not just the deleting of groups/pictures/etc that have to do with breastfeeding, it’s the all too apparent double standard that Facebook insists on having.

    That said, I don’t post many pictures of myself breastfeeding. First of all, I don’t have many pictures taken of me breastfeeding (though, to be honest, I try to avoid being in FRONT of the camera as much as possible as I have some major self-esteem and body issues) and second of all, I’m feeding my baby. I feed (whether it’s nursing or feeding her solids now that she’s over six months old) my baby throughout the day, all day. It’s one thing she does and if I’m going to post pictures of her, I’d rather post pictures of her smiling or wearing a silly hat or doing something. Not that I don’t feel breastfeeding is important because I do and it is. I just see it as NORMAL and not necessarily a picture taking event. But that is how I personally feel about it. Other moms naturally are going to feel differently.

    I think a big part of the problem is that these days, there is no innocence. When parents can run into trouble with the law due to pictures of their kids taking a bath, we now have to worry about how things are seen. We live in a world that is corrupted and it taints everything, including the innocent picture of a mother nursing her child.

  7. I find it disgusting that it’s completely ok for people to show pics of themselves topless, or in a thong on tv but God forbid someone see a pic of a baby that is nursing. Here’s a thought: if you don’t like it, DON’T LOOK~!!

  8. It’s no wonder so many American women choose not to give their human babies human milk with all the judgements about nursing. To those who feel that breastfeeding is “obscene” or tantamount to sex, then why don’t they view pacifiers and bottles as sex toys? Afterall, these are designed to mimmick the real thing. Now do we see how ridiculous this is? Breastfeeding is normal. News flash: It is what breasts are for. No one tells a woman who shows too much cleavage to cover up. As for nursing in public, most babies have to feed every 2 hours. Thus, mothers shouldn’t have to hide or stay in a private place every other hour of every day. If you feel that feeding a baby is obscene, it is YOUR mind that is in the gutter.

  9. I agree that breastfeeding is important. Personally, I EBF’d my kids until they were 16 months old. However, I never had to in public, I see that as absolutely poor planning on the part of a mother, and I should know I had twins! Furthermore, I never had anyone take a picture of me whilst. If it is so natural a process (which I agree with) why need to document it? What other pictures of natural acts do you post on your facebook page?

    While I support and encourage breastfeeding whole-heartedly, I often think that some mothers push the limits to what is acceptable. I am not looking for a fight here, but it makes me disgusted when I see abuses in the name of liberating mothers. ie. women breast feeding in church during mass, and at other extremely inappropriate times.

    Finally, I think that Facebook has the right to warn mothers that their photos might not be so innocent in everyone’s eyes. Not everyone looks at pictures of adorable kids in a healthy way either, does it make it right? Hell No! But upholding the nature of certain individuals rights to post pictures and ignoring the perception of those pictures by others (sick or otherwise) is completely within this private companies rights.

  10. Gosh, mdesario, you’re writing complaining about condescending, emotional, angry, bitter replies without tact, courtesy, or respect with a condescending note that is emotional, angry, and bitter without tact, courtesy, or respect.

  11. +1

    I absolutely agree with you, Sun. I intentionally wrote it that way, mirroring the structure, content and tone of Ashley’s original reply to Nikki. With respect to your reply to me, I can hear that you didn’t find that satire effective or amusing, and if it offended you, I genuinely apologize, as offending you wasn’t my intent.

    My intent was to offend Ashley, and in so doing illustrate that her response to Nikki was inappropriate. I can hear you when you assert that my response was also inappropriate. I think we can both agree that Nikki’s was the only post of the four that didn’t seek to chastise someone.

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