On my Facebook page, I linked to this article asking the president of Facebook to change its policies on breastfeeding. In case you don’t know, Facebook considers photographs of breastfeeding to be obscene, and deletes them as pornography. Yet, they put underwear advertisements from American Apparel on my homepage.
The letter uses statistics from this recently publicized article from Pediatrics that enumerates the risks of our low breastfeeding rates in the United States in numbers of money spent and lives lost. This is a common way to discuss large scale public health issues. But, as usual, someone wants to hold breastfeeding to a different standard than other health issues.
A former friend of mine, who I thought I had blocked on Facebook, but I guess I hadn’t, replied with this comment:
i’m all for facebook changing its policies, but i don’t think that we need to demonize women who choose not to (or cannot) breastfeed.
OK, I know the post took the mortality numbers and ran with them. I have to admit, they are startling numbers, and there is something about putting a mortality number on something to really drive home how policies can really affect public health. It’s all theory on the internet when we’re bloviating about whether breastfeeding in public is obscene, or whether being “pro-life” really can be reconciled with being against legal and safe abortion, but numbers of actual deaths per year are a powerful, powerful argument. There is nothing inherently different about breastfeeding that makes it somehow sacrosant, however, and therefore we cannot use our most powerful tools to promote it. There was not ONE word in this article that I thought demonized women who choose not to breastfeed. It acknowledged how breastfeeding successfully, even getting out of the hospital breastfeeding, needs a lot of support and education. It needs all the help it can get, and treating photos of breastfeeding like pornography on the most popular, incredibly pervasive social media outlet in the world may be a factor in the public perception of breastfeeding. Period. It wasn’t this post that linked breastfeeding to preventing almost 1000 deaths a year. It was the researchers who were published in Pediatrics, and then the article was publicized by outlets like CNN.
Here was my reply:
I don’t think that this post does that. It is a letter to the president of Facebook about its policy on breastfeeding photos being obscene, and draws attention to the fact that breastfeeding is important by using real epidemiological statistics on the public health effects of the low breastfeeding rates in the country.
I know that discussing breastfeeding’s very real health benefits may make women who don’t or can’t breastfeed feel bad, and that’s a shame. It’s hardly the most important point, however, as the statistics in the article clearly explain, and isn’t a reason to suppress real public health statistics on its benefits. It’s hard to discuss breastfeeding without talking about the true risks of low breastfeeding rates, and how these low rates may be related to how it is treated by various media sources, including social media.
One journal article on why women choose not to even initiate breastfeeding showed that the most prevalent reason was fear of what others, especially their partners, will think of them. The public shaming of breastfeeding is an important topic, even when discussing why some women choose not to breastfeed.
I didn’t see one line in this piece that said women who don’t or can’t breastfeed are wrong in any way. It’s an important health decision with important health consequences, and when I talk about it as a public health issue, I am not commenting on individual women’s health choices, which, when regarding many aspects of pregnancy, birth and parenting, are complicated and multi factorial. I don’t think this piece was, either.
In fact, in the comment section, I think the author answers this point rather well. Mothers, especially first time mothers, cannot make an informed health decision about breastfeeding when the behavior is shamed socially by prominent, pervasive outlets like Facebook. When mothers who don’t breastfeed have their bottle feeding pictures banned from Facebook for being pornographic, then we are talking about a similar issue. Otherwise, I don’t this article has anything to do with demonizing women who don’t breastfeed, but is rather about shaming women who do.
I want to add, since this is my blog and not Facebook, that this is a major pet peeve of mine, and this person knows it. I hate that almost any internet discussion of breastfeeding is derailed by “Don’t hurt mothers’ FEELINGS!!!” and accuses me of being unsupportive.
I have a very good friend who had an awful struggle with breastfeeding who eventually had to give up and use formula, another who had to stop due to allergies that led to constant GI bleeding and anemia in her child, and a few cousin Susans who didn’t breastfeed after the first feeding or two in the hospital. I was a doula to a mother with MS that couldn’t breastfeed because she wanted to go back on her medications. I find it really insulting to be told that I am not supportive of mothers, since it is something I take very seriously. I have wiped tears off of a mother’s breast while helping her tape tubing of an supplemental lactation system to her breast, and I doubt any of these people who have accused me of that have ever been that supportive of mothers trying to breastfeed without judging them. And, I think crying “FOUL!” any time the subject comes up allows people to have an excuse to not consider the true risks to not breastfeeding, and casts it as a lifestyle decision rather than a health decision. And, I think this recasting of breastfeeding is a major reason why women choose not to do it.