Feb. 8, 2012 -- A group of moms protested outside Facebook offices around the world Monday charging that the social network has repeatedly taken down photos that show mothers breastfeeding their babies.
The site even disabled the accounts of some moms who had uploaded the nursing pictures, the group said.
"A woman is protected to breastfeed her child wherever she is legally allowed," said Emma Kwasnica, a childbirth and breastfeeding educator who helped spearhead the nurse-in. "Health experts are always pushing women to breastfeed, but we're constantly seeing road blocks like this."
Kwasnica implored Facebook to train their staff to better decipher what is and what isn't appropriate. She also asked that the social networking giant build stronger ties to their clients, so that there is a point of contact for clients in case errors such as these continue to arise.
Breastfeeding photos are allowed to be uploaded to the social networking site, but if another Facebook user flags a photo as inappropriate, it may be taken down, according to a company spokesperson.
In the course of processing more than one billion photos per day, employees are bound to make a mistake once in a while, when it comes to determining what is and is not appropriate, Facebook said.
Kwasnica said dozens of her photos have been flagged since she joined Facebook in 2007. Her personal page has been disabled four times due to the breastfeeding pictures.
A spokesperson for the site said Facebook is glad that mothers and their families, including many who work at Facebook, use the site to share their parenting experiences, including breastfeeding their children.
"By uploading photos, joining groups, and engaging with different organizations, these families are able to share and connect on a very important topic, and we are thrilled they are using Facebook to do so," a Facebook spokesperson said. "When it comes to uploaded photos on Facebook, the vast majority of breastfeeding photos comply with our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, which closely mirrors the policy that governs broadcast television.
"Facebook receives hundreds of thousands of reports every week, and as you might expect, occasionally we make a mistake and remove a piece of content we shouldn't," the company said.
When this happens, employees at the social network quickly work to address an error by apologizing to those affected and making any necessary changes to the processes to ensure the same type of mistakes do not continue to be made, the company said. The site encourages people to re-upload the photos they believe were removed in error.
But, Kwasnica said she receives messages nearly every day from other mothers who have been blocked or suspended from Facebook due to their breastfeeding photos.
"If it is truly because of employee errors, it happens so much that it seems that Facebook has lost control of its network," said Kwasnica.
Health organizations have long encouraged mothers to breastfeed their newborn babies. Breast milk provides antibodies against pathogens, and has been associated with reduced morbidity and mortality from gastrointestinal, respiratory and other diseases.
Health experts agree that "breast is best" for growing infants. About 75 percent of new moms in the U.S. start breastfeeding their newborns, but only about 13 percent continue to breastfeed after the baby is six months old, according to the CDC.
"I don't see Facebook taking down photos of anyone else eating in public," said Susan Burger, president of the New York Lactation Consultant Association. "People need to start realizing that babies need to eat in the normal way that they were supposed to eat. No one else is expected to eat under a blanket or in a bathroom or only at home… Of all the members of society that one could harass, why would anyone want to harass babies and the mothers who are caring for them?"
And most of the time, a woman's nipple and areola are not exposed when breastfeeding her child, said Dr. Ruth Lawrence, director of the Human Lactation Study Center at the University of Rochester School of Medicine.
"One sees more of the breast with present day fashions than when a baby is suckling," said Lawrence. "If this is nudity, then there is nudity everywhere, on the street, on TV and online. Children should grow up knowing breastfeeding is normal, natural, and essential to infant care."
Dr. Kathleen Marinelli, a physician at Connecticut Children's Medical Center, agreed and said society is much more comfortable allowing marketing companies to use breasts to sell beers and cars than seeing a woman using her breasts in their most natural and functioning form.
"It's a very convoluted way of seeing things," said Marinelli. "We need not sexualize breasts and see them in their natural form. I think Facebook pictures of women breastfeeding would help normalize this perception."