Facebook stirs up another row with nursing mothers

Social networking giant deletes popular support page because of pictures of breastfeeding

By Susie Mesure
Sunday 09 January 2011 01:00

Facebook has sparked a fresh row with nursing mothers by deleting a page for a breastfeeding support group followed by thousands.

The social networking giant removed the page for The Leaky B@@b – an online support group where mothers can swap tips and which provides an emotional crutch for anyone struggling to cope with the demands of a nursing child.

The move was the latest in a series of clashes between the website and breastfeeding mothers, particularly those who have posted photos of themselves nursing their child. Facebook has a history of classifying breastfeeding photos as "obscene content" and removing them from users' online albums. A row in 2008 caused the site to be deluged with nursing shots; the "Hey Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene" group has around 260,000 members.

Facebook deleted The Leaky B@@b last weekend, telling Jessica Martin-Weber, its founder, that her page had "violated our Terms of Use", and explaining that "hateful, threatening, or obscene [pages] are not allowed".

Facebook then said the deletion was "a mistake" and reinstated The Leaky B@@b on Tuesday. The same night it was removed again, although it was back yesterday, along with several new protest groups including TLB Support and Bring Back the Leaky Boob. Facebook finds breastfeeding images tricky because they trigger its safety net, designed to filter out indecent shots. Nipples, in particular, activate alarm bells.

Ms Martin-Weber used her website, leakyboob.blogspot.com, to defend her Facebook page. "Many women don't have other resources if they have a question in the middle of the night, or don't know where else to go for referrals to help," she said.

Breastfeeding is a contentious issue for new mothers, with many feeling they struggle to get the support they need to persevere. WHO recommendations state that mothers should exclusively breastfeed their babies until they are six months old, but barely a third of British babies are still exclusively breastfed at one week and just a fifth at six weeks. By the time babies are four months old, that figure has plunged to 7 per cent, giving Britain one of the worst breastfeeding records in the developed world.

Jill Taylor, a London-based mother of two who is nursing her 14-week-old son Billy, said: "People may feel breasts are so sexualised that they can't accept it's a natural thing to do. Breastfeeding is natural, but that doesn't necessarily mean it comes naturally. You need support to keep going. It's a sensitive issue and while I personally wouldn't post a picture of myself breastfeeding, if people want to they should be able to."

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