Facebook’s contribution to the declining health of society

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons/Andrew Weinberg

I was very disappointed on the morning of January 2nd, 2011 when I logged on to Twitter and found out that The Leaky B@@b’s Facebook page had been deleted overnight. Her page provided an active forum where moms could find answers to their breastfeeding questions, and support from other moms who have “been there, done that”. In other words, it provided exactly the kind of support that most breastfeeding mothers need. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Facebook regularly removes breastfeeding pictures or pages, stating that they violate Facebook’s terms of use.

The terms of use state: Facebook does not allow photos that attack an individual or group, or that contain nudity, drug use, violence, or other violations of the Terms of Use. These policies are designed to ensure Facebook remains a safe, secure and trusted environment for all users, including the many children who use the site.

Hmmmm “These policies are designed to ensure Facebook remains a safe, secure and trusted environment for all users, including the many children who use the site.” Interesting. I have no problem with my children seeing the natural act of babies breastfeeding, however I was very glad that my 8 year old wasn’t standing at the computer when I searched the term “breasts” on Facebook. There are far more inappropriate pages for children than The Leaky B@@b (or any other breastfeeding page) on Facebook.

This is not just an issue for breastfeeding moms, this is an issue that all of society should be paying attention to. Breastfeeding is not just something that women do to provide a few extra benefits to their children. It is a public health imperative.  A recent research study concluded that “If 90% of US families could comply with medical recommendations to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months, the United States would save $13 billion per year and prevent an excess 911 deaths, nearly all of which would be in infants ($10.5 billion and 741 deaths at 80% compliance)”.

Breastfeeding is the biological norm for our species, and when you mess with nature, there are consequences.  Human milk has over 300 ingredients, including white cells, antibacterial and antiviral agents and stem cells (among many others). Researchers are still trying to determine what some of the components of breastmilk are and what they do. It simply cannot be replicated. Formula has only 40 (non-living) ingredients and there are numerous risks associated with not breastfeeding.

These days most mothers have gotten the message that breastfeeding is important, and most moms want to breastfeed (as evidenced by high breastfeeding initiation rates). The problem is that the number of women exclusively breastfeeding drops off dramatically in the first month. Women are repeatedly given the message “breast is best”, but we do not live in a breastfeeding friendly society. How are mothers supposed to get the help and support they need when doctors and other health care providers  have little to no training in breastfeeding, breastfeeding clinics are being closed, and mothers are being kicked out of public places for breastfeeding.

Facebook is a great example of the fact that society really doesn’t support breastfeeding families. How are mothers supposed to feel confident about breastfeeding their babies when they are repeatedly getting the message that breastfeeding is shameful and shouldn’t be seen by others?  By deleting breastfeeding photos and labeling them as obscene, and by deleting pages that provide support and information to thousands of breastfeeding mothers, Facebook is contributing to the struggles that many breastfeeding women face everyday.

So why should you care? Because it’s your tax dollars that are being raised to pay for our society’s declining health. Low breastfeeding rates don’t just impact a few children who happen to get more colds that their breastfed counterparts do. They impact all of us. All you need do is read or watch the news to realize that we are a very unhealthy society, and high health care costs affect everyone. So whether you’re a parent or not, whether you’re breastfeeding or not, this really is an issue for everyone, and shame on Facebook for being part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Update January 5th 2011 1030 EST:

The deletion of The Leaky Boob’s Facebook page caused a lot of outrage (and rightly so!). Within 48hrs, the Facebook page “Bring Back the Leaky Boob” that had been created, had over 5000 “likes”. It has also been blogged about in numerous places, and a press release was sent out. Yesterday afternoon, those of us who support Jessica at The Leaky Boob, were thrilled that her page had been re-instated by Facebook, only to find out 6 hours later that it had been removed again, along with the Facebook support page. A new page titled Bring Back the Leaky Boob – again has been set up to show support.

Update January 6th 2011

The Leaky Boob’s Facebook page was reinstated yesterday afternoon, and is still up! So thank to everyone who showed their support.