Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Chilling effect on breastfeeding

breastfeeding Pictures, Images and PhotosIn case you haven't heard, Facebook has been removing pictures of women breastfeeding - deeming them "obscene". For more of the details, check this out.

PhD in Parenting has a great post with arguments for why it should allow people to post pictures of breastfeeding. Rather than retread any of that ground, I'll add a perspective that I haven't heard much of in this debate yet. Numerous folks in this debate have talked about "normalizing" breastfeeding. Don't know what that really means? I offer myself up as a classic example.

When I started breastfeeding, I was a little intimidated. I didn't know how long I'd breastfeed, but figured 6 months was a good goal. I didn't really know anyone who had breastfed for longer than that; my own mom used formula in the 1970's for me and my sister and while hugely supportive of my efforts had no advice to give. So I didn't really have any role models. Since I've always been a shy person, I figured that baring my breasts (even a little) in public would be a big disincentive to breastfeeding.

But you know what? After a rough start to breastfeeding, my daughter and I hit our stride at week 6. I surprised myself by exclusively breastfeeding her for 6 months. She'll turn one year old in a couple of weeks and even though I'd revised my goal to think about weaning at 12 months, my daughter doesn't seem anywhere near ready and as the one year mark approaches, neither am I.

And here's the thing about this whole Facebook debate. I think Facebook's actions have a chilling effect. I mean, to someone like me who never really considered "extended breastfeeding," let along breastfeeding for one year, all of this talk about how breastfeeding images are akin to obscenity shakes me up. Makes me wonder what the general public will think when they see me feeding me daughter. Don't get me wrong, I'm not about to stop FEEDING my daughter just because someone doesn't like it (my inhibitions about feeding in public disappeared months ago). However, if all this talk about nudity and obscenity rattles me, I wonder how many other women are affected in some way. How many women make their decision to (dis)continue breastfeeding based on what they think the public perception is because intentionally or not, Facebook has linked breastfeeding and obscenity? I understand that Facebook is a private entity and as such has the right to make policies about use, but I wonder if this is the kind of lasting and social impact Facebook wants to have?

What's the alternative? The alternative is that a powerful social networking tool allows women from all over the world to share and support one another as they work to provide for a basic need for their children. The alternative is that Facebook supports breastfeeding by *not* labelling it as obscene and thereby supports doctors from all over the world who advocate breastfeeding.

Image from Positivemom on Photobucket


  1. Well said! My experience with breastfeeding has been very similar to yours. I don't know how I would have gotten through those first couple of months without the community forums I visited. It's too bad that Facebook decided to add a negative voice to the BFing discussion.

  2. One of my friends linked this post on facebook. I'm right with you--there needs to be support for breastfeeding women, not shame! I'm very blessed to have a good support network in my family (my mom nursed all 9 of us) and among many of my friends, but I know not everyone has that. My son was born in Jan 2007, and still loves nursing. :)

  3. Thanks for this post. I honestly had no idea that breastfeeding was such a controversial concept or that an organization as large as Facebook would be expending energy to try and censor images of it. It's so sad.

  4. I'm not sure I think Facebook will have as much effect as one's social network. I don't know anybody who didn't breastfeed or try to. It's just normal to me.

  5. Thank you all for your thoughts!

    CJ- I was really glad to have my parenting group (you're in Seattle so you know PEPS I'm sure). Many of the moms in our group were nursing and it helped to hear that we weren't the only ones that struggled at the start of BF'ing. But they were also the only people I knew at the time who were actively BF'ing.

    MommyBee - Wow! Your mom nursed all 9 of you. I can say for sure (after only one!) that's a lot of work. Peanut is a January baby too (2008 though).

  6. Eva- It's amazing to me that even living in Seattle, where lactation consultants are plentiful and BF'ing seems to widely advocated by most folks involved in childbirth, that I still didn't know that many folks who had done very much breastfeeding. It's so nice to hear that it's really the norm within some circles and communities.

  7. they should worry more about what's being said on TV and shown, things which are natural, albeit some prefer it done in privacy.. but all-things-natural should not be hindered in anyway.

    COME ON, I think it is more obscene to wear a G-string in public, you can look sexy without being so tacky... fab post!