Monday, 6 February 2012

Dear Facebook: Breastfeeding is not obscene

Tomorrow will be a big day at the Facebook office in Sydney. Breastfeeding mothers are planning on having a 'nurse in' to protest against the way in which breastfeeding photos are continually treated as obscene by Facebook, and photos are removed and accounts have been locked in response to this. Whilst Facebook officially says that they have no issue with breastfeeding photos, time and time again this has been shown to not be what actually occurs. (More on their policy below.) For more information see here. This event is also occuring at other Facebook offices around the globe.

Breastfeeding is a normal part of life, and should therefore be shared with one's social network. Indeed, a woman's right to breastfeed (in public or anywhere) is protected under Australian law. It is therefore perfectly reasonable and healthy to post photos of breastfeeding on one's Facebook page.

There are some who would disagree with my statements with the following arguments which I will address in turn.

"Going to the toilet is natural too, that doesn't mean you should post photos of that"
I would like to preface this by saying that anyone who doesn't know the difference between having a meal and defecating is not welcome in my kitchen. This implies that a baby feeding is dirty, unsanitary and should be behind closed doors. Firstly, this is not the case - a woman has the right to feed her child wherever she and her child are allowed to be. Secondly, following this logic, then all eating by people of all ages, breathing and moving are not fit for public display, because they are natural too. This is absurd.

Exposed breast while feeding a child = porn
The idea that a breast, and therefore breastfeeding, is sexual is an idea which is firmly intrenched in society. Do you recall the media fuss when photos of Miranda Kerr breastfeeding were released? Some was negative, a lot was positive, but consider the fuss which is made of normal bikini modelling photos of Kerr. That's right, not a blip.

Body parts can have multiple roles. Yes, breasts have a sexual role. A woman's hands, lips and tongue also have sexual roles. If breasts need to be covered in public because they are sexual, then all women (and men for that matter) should be wearing gloves whenever they leave the house. Many people in Western countries find the idea that a woman is required to cover her face very oppressive and offensive. Following the breast = porn logic, then everyone should be wearing veils as well as gloves.

"I'm all for public breastfeeding, as long as it's discreet"
This is one that really gets my goat. Firstly, let's define 'discreet'. If by 'discreet', you mean 'put a blankie over your shoulder, your baby and your breast' then I would like to suggest that you may be unaware of how to breastfeed. The most probable time for a 'nip slip' is when the child is attaching, which is also the least practical time to cover up. Most mothers, especially in the newborn months, need to see their baby's mouth and their breast as well as using about ten hands to get the baby to attach properly. This is practically impossible to do under a blanket or nursing cover. In addition, some (many?) children are quite uncomfortable feeding under a blanket and will simply rip the blanket off, or scream (and not feed) until it is removed.

If by 'discreet' you mean 'invisible' then I would counter that again breastfeeding should not be invisible. Again, it is the normal way to feed babies and should be seen as much as any other normal activity like greeting a friend, colouring in, playing in the sandpit or going for a swim at the beach. In addition, feeding with a blanket or a nursing cover usually only serves to draw attention to the fact that one is breastfeeding. I have breastfed during professional development sessions, staff meetings, meals with friends and family and many other occasions when people around me were totally unaware of Chubs' feeding, and on none of those occasions did I use a nursing cover.

Secondly, breastfeeding should not be discrete any more than any other activity. Many babies are more comfortable feeding in a quiet room, or under a blanket to protect from distractions. Some mothers choose the privacy of a nursing cover or a feeding room. (Indeed, there have been times when I have moved to a different room to feed when I felt that was the best thing to do in the circumstances. I also tried to feed Chubs under a blanket when the 'distracted stage' set in at about five months.) Some people prefer to take phone calls in private, some people don't like to talk about their financial matters in front of others. In each of these examples and countless others, the choice for privacy is just that - a choice - not a dictated rule.

"Ugh, I don't want to see that"
Some people will argue that the appropriateness of breastfeeding in public is merely a difference of opinion. This is not the view that federal law takes. A woman's right to breastfeed her child anywhere that she or her child are allowed to be is protected under the Sexual Discrimination Act of 1984. Recent ammendments also specifically including expressing breastmilk under the Act. (Expressing was never excluded, but is now specifically addressed.) To ask a woman to stop breastfeeding, to ask her to move on or to refuse her service because she is breastfeeding is unlawful and sexual discrimination. I believe anyone who thinks that it is ok to do any of these things should say exactly what that believe - that sexual discrimination and illegal behaviour is acceptable to them.

Further words on Facebook's breastfeeding policy.

Firstly, as said above, the big issue is that Facebook employees appear to be acting outside this policy.

Secondly, in response to
Photos that show a fully exposed breast where the child is not actively engaged in nursing do violate Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities
I would certainly be interested to see how Facebook, and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission, would define 'not actively engaged in nursing'. I would wager that the person who wrote this policy has little understanding of how nursing works, especially with older babies and children.

Thirdly, in response to
It is important to note that photos which we act upon are almost exclusively brought to our attention by other users who complain about them being shared on Facebook.
Other people can make complaints which are racist, sexist, inflammatory or just plain wrong - that does not excuse Facebook from acting decently. Indeed, is that not why the reporting mechanism exists, so that Facebook can assess the validity of a complaint before acting (or not acting) on it?

Breastfeeding is a normal part of life. Social networking is about sharing our lives with others, and that includes breastfeeding. Shape up Facebook and practice what you preach. Breastfeeding is not obscene. For more information and to add your voice visit the Facebook group for the Sydney eventopen letters to Facebook and some of the images considered to be 'obscene'. Please also add your views in the comments below.


  1. World Breastfeeding Week starts on August 1st! Here are some helpful tips for breastfeeding mums... No confusing statistics or anything like that, just some good things to remember for when you are breastfeeding your baby from mums who know!


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