Streamer Sparks Debate Over Whether Twitch Should Allow Breastfeeding

Kent and her 11-month-old baby, Margaux (Image: Heather Kent)

When a Twitch streamer breastfed her baby on stream last week, clips of the moment ended up getting removed from Twitch, and it sparked a debate about whether or not the practice violates Twitch’s terms of service, with some arguing that breastfeeding constitutes “sexual” content.

Being a parent on Twitch isn’t easy. As independent contractors, parents have to deal with inconsistent work hours, unreliable pay, a lack of healthcare and a general lack of safety nets should anything go wrong.

Streamer, YouTuber, and model Heather “HeatheredEffect” Kent took three months off after her daughter Margaux was born last year. Twitch doesn’t offer any form of maternity leave, so she just had to take the hit to her bank account and audience. Now she’s run into another complication: During a stream last week, she decided to breastfeed Margaux while chatting with a friend.

On the same day as the stream in question, another clip in which Kent and her friend discussed a Sports Illustrated modelling audition got posted to the Twitch clip repository (and drama crockpot) Livestreamfail.

In this clip, Kent was casually breastfeeding her baby, calling no attention to the act itself. The clip’s poster, a fellow parent and fitness streamer who goes by the handle TominationTime, had good intentions, titling his post “Normalising Breastfeeding On Twitch.” 

It was not well-received by many of the posters on Livestreamfail, some of whom jumped to accuse breastfeeding streamers of “using their children as an excuse to flash tit” and “make money” from exposing their bodies.

Kent says that Twitch took the clip down that day. (Twitch has yet to respond to a request for comment.) Kent reposted the clip on Twitter and discussed its removal, writing that “we obviously have a long way to go in the fight to normalise breastfeeding” and noting that an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood once featured on Twitch’s front page focused on breastfeeding much more than her own stream. “Where was the outrage when Twitch streamed the Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood episode about breastfeeding on the front page?” she asked.

Speaking to Kotaku on the phone late last week, Kent described herself as “not really a huge political movement type of a person.” Nor, she said, is she somebody who regularly feeds her daughter on stream, typically opting to instead stream at night, when Margaux is asleep. In light of all the furore, however, she feels like she can’t just stay quiet.

“I thought that I would get some creepy comments, because it’s Twitch,” she told Kotaku. “But I’ve honestly been shocked by the negative community reaction as a whole. It seems like there’s a lot less people coming to my defence in terms of breastfeeding, and it’s been a little shocking and a little demoralising and kind of sad. It’s actually put me in a corner where I feel like I actually need to take a stand for this, because clearly there’s a lot of minds that need to be changed or enlightened when it comes to breastfeeding, I think there’s still a lot of things that are misunderstood.”

For example, breastfeeding in public is legal across the U.S. and around the world. It’s also allowed on other social media platforms like Instagram, whose rules state that “breastfeeding is natural and beautiful, and we understand that it’s important for mothers to be able to share their experiences” before concluding that “the vast majority of these kinds of posts are following our policies.”

On top of that, Twitch has not instituted any sort of blanket ban on revealing wardrobe choices. Instead, Twitch now decides whether or not people end up in shirtless stream jail based on context. “[We] will consider not just the attire itself, but also the contextual setting in which it is worn and the intent of the person wearing it, when moderating content,” read Twitch’s rules.

This is why an IRL streamer can, say, be shirtless in a gym setting — something TominationTime, the male streamer who shared the initial clip of Kent breastfeeding on Livestreamfail, regularly does.

Despite this, commenters on Reddit and Twitter continue to insist that Kent should have expected an enraged mob and trigger-happy Twitch moderators. They’ve taken to comparing it to using the bathroom. Streamers can walk off-camera for a minute or two to do that, the reasoning goes, so why can’t Kent do the same for breastfeeding?

“People are like ‘Pooping or peeing or whatever, that’s a bodily function. You can handle it like you handle those,’” she said. “That’s not even the same thing. First of all, those are human waste products. They don’t do the same thing breast milk does, and also you can’t just pee in public or throw up in the public. You can get fined for doing that. You cannot get fined anywhere in America for breastfeeding your child.”

That argument also implies that breastfeeding is quick and easy — consistently doable in the span of time it takes somebody to get up and use the bathroom. That, said Kent, is not the case, and folks can watch her full stream archive if they want evidence.

“I want to go and add the minutes that she was on the boob awake,” she said. “It seemed like an hour and a half. A majority of the time she’s on and off the boob, because that’s what babies do. You can’t control that.”

A brief break is already guaranteed to lose a streamer at least a handful of viewers. An hour or more is untenable. Popular streamer mOE (and many others) have suggested nursing covers as a be-all, end-all solution to the nudity issue, but even that’s not a sure thing, said Kent. “As they get older, they rip the covers off,” she said.

What Kent takes the biggest issue with, though, is the sheer number of people suggesting that this was, intentionally, about sexualisation, and that if breastfeeding on stream is allowed that Twitch will be soon be flooded with women using newborn infants as Trojan Horses to deliver the ultimate payload: the dreaded Exposed Female Nipple.

“They actually think that a woman will take medicine to lactate and then somehow find a child to breastfeed just to show their nipple,” she said. “Or… they want to show their nipples and evade terms of service so much that they’re willing to get pregnant, be pregnant for nine months, and have a child, just so they can breastfeed on Twitch to steal your views.”

“Do you really think that’s what women want to do?”

The Twitch community is more than 80 per cent male, and many men tend to view women’s bodies as sexualised objects first and foremost.

“When a man, which is predominantly the Twitch platform, sees the nipple, they don’t know how to feel because all they think of a woman’s body is as this sexual thing,” Kent said. “They’re driving a lot of the Twitch culture. It’s like a woman’s body is sexual — it’s sexual, it’s sexual, it’s sexual.”

Kent feels like, ultimately, many Twitch viewers don’t like the idea of not being able to fit women into neat little boxes. They like seeing a baby on stream, but if there’s an element of that interaction that doesn’t fit their idealised perception of motherhood, it crosses too many wires. “It seems like you can’t win either way,” she said. “I’ve had people come into my chat knowing that I’m a mum and being like ‘Where are your kids?’ And then I have my baby on stream, and I breastfeed her, and they’re like, ‘Oh my god, no, you’re using your boobs. You’re exploiting your baby for views.’”

Twitch, said Kent, stopped deleting clips of her breastfeeding her daughter after two days. She still hasn’t heard from any Twitch staff, though, and she thinks the company could do more to speak up in support of women in her position.

Photo: Twitch

“I think it would be very helpful if Twitch took a stand to support mothers,” she said. “I think they have an opportunity here where they can... support women on their platform and just say, ‘Hey, if a woman is actively breastfeeding on our platform, we are fine with that.’”

While Kent says she’s been called a “whore” and accused of setting women back decades, she’s also received sporadic support from fans and other smaller streamers. Still, she feels like bigger personalities have either been combative or stayed mum, and that bums her out.

“There are influential people on the platform that could take the side of choosing to support mothers,” she said. “It’s really hard just as one person with not a lot of support, just arguing with these people that have no idea about breastfeeding, or how it works, to educate an entire audience.”

She hopes, though, that it ends up being worth it — that maybe she can at least give a little encouragement to other mums on Twitch, if nothing else.

“Some woman that’s streaming right now might be pregnant, and it might be how she makes all of her money, and she’s really struggling with ‘What am I going to do once the baby is here?’” she said.

“Maybe there’s a single mum, and she doesn’t have the ability just stream at night and totally mess up her sleep schedule. So if what I’m doing can somehow empower someone else or change the narrative or make Twitch take a stand, then I would be very happy that it happened as a result of this.”


Comments

    Breastfeeding is not sexual. How is that even a debate?

      100% How are we at this point in human society. What the actual EFF is happening to the "evolution" of humans.

      Because there are boobs involved. And these people are yet to grow up or see women as more than sexual objects.

      Maybe not for you, but ...

      Nah, I can't even joke about this. You're totally right. With the provisio that this streamer has a seriously amazing figure. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

      people want to be noticed, and outrage/offended culture is the shortest path..

      people want to be noticed, and outrage/offended culture is the shortest path..

    No strong feelings on the subject, baby gotta eat.

    One thing I did find interesting about breast feeding is it's not always a beautiful affair.
    My little fellow would often ruin the moment by cocking his leg and dropping a fart but the funniest thing he ever did was drop a duece mid feed.
    One eye rapidly squinting and the other wide open, grunting for effect between gulps, it was a far from a Huggies advert moment.

      lol! That right there is a realities of parenting comedy skit!

    On the one hand - it isn't sexual in the slightest, it's fucking natural.

    On the other hand - why do you need to stream while breastfeeding? I get it if you're out in public or whatever and the kid needs a feed, but maybe turn the camera off and not have your kid being fed on stream?

    Twitch doesn’t offer any form of maternity leave, so she just had to take the hit to her bank account and audience.Yeah look as much as the author wants streamers to be treated like employees, they absolutely aren't employees and therefore get none of the entitlements of employees. It's digital busking on a platform that promotes you and only pays you while people are watching. No content = no pay, this isn't surprising in the least.

      Or zoom the camera in for a close up to her face and not show the actual breast-feeding?

      I get it that it's not sexual, but the rules still say no bare breasts (or more accurately no nipple). So I guess if they are visible at some point during the feeding it'd violate the TOS anyway.

      I mean outside of zooming in on her face, she could turn off the camera and keep audio going. Strictly speaking while it's not illegal in public there are many things that are better done in private circumstances willing. if you can't no one should begrudge you, but if you have options and you don't use them then you've got some things to think about.

      You stated "only pays you while people are watching". So if people are watching why do you have a problem with her breastfeeding?
      Seriously, why is this an issue? If she is capable of streaming and breastfeeding at the same time then let her. Saying that the camera should be turned off means that she needs to hide her breastfeeding - it's the same as telling a women in a restaurant breastfeeding to go into a separate room.

        There's a massive difference between breastfeeding in a restaurant - while you're in public but not inviting people to watch you - and breastfeeding during a livestream - where you absolutely are inviting people to watch you for monetary donations. There is zero need to breastfeed on camera during a stream. If you're talking to your friend or whatever, move the camera away from your child while they feed - and hey look, you can keep streaming and not fall afoul of content restrictions. Trying to claim this is some grave social injustice is ridiculous. She broadcasted it on a privately owned and operated platform, and they removed it.

        What is it we say when a private site like Twitch or Twitter remove something? Wait, I think it goes like this: It's their platform, they can remove whatever they damn well please.

          If you're talking to your friend or whatever, move the camera away from your child while they feed

          Why, though? Plenty of people are saying 'she didn't have to' but nobody's saying why she shouldn't have the option to. It's not sexual, it's not tasteless (as streaming on the shitter probably would be), it doesn't involve flashing genitals. Why does putting it off-camera need to be entertained in the first place?

            Why does it need to be on camera? Nobody's made a good argument for why breastfeeding during livestreaming is appropriate - nor have they made an argument for why Twitch shouldn't have removed it. All anybody has done is draw a nonsensical parallel between breastfeeding in public out of necessity - which isn't the same as livestreaming yourself with the expectation of monetary gain.

              'Why does it need to be on camera' is not valid logic for justifying taking something off camera. There's an infinite list of things that don't need to be on camera but since they're not a problem there's no reason to remove them. The onus isn't on her to justify why it should be on camera, the onus is on you to justify why it shouldn't.

                No it actually isn’t - Twitch is a private platform and can deem anything it likes to be against the TOS and remove it. Trying to shift the burden of suitability for broadcast is a silly attempt at deflection. There’s no public need for Twitch to permit breastfeeding.

                  Twitch wasn't the one who used 'why does it need to be there' as reasoning, that was you. The 'on the other hand' in your first post was your reasoning. Twitch can explain theirs separately, but I'm addressing what you said, not what they did.

                  @zombiejesus Twitch removed it for being against the TOS and the streamer is arguing that it shouldn't be because breastfeeding is permitted by state law in public. In effect, she's asserting that it's her right to stream herself breastfeeding. My assertion is that there's absolutely nothing to suggest Twitch has to allow it, and that there's no real imperative, moral or otherwise, for Twitch to permit it. It's entirely possible for her to maintain her stream and not violate the TOS with very minimal disruption. She chooses not to. It's a non-story.

                  I think that's an unfair assessment. She never asserted any right to stream breastfeeding, nor that Twitch had an imperative to allow it. Almost everything she said was about the attitude of the community giving her shit for breastfeeding, the only thing she said about Twitch itself was that it'd be nice if they adjusted their terms to support mothers who do need to breastfeed. That's a perfectly reasonable thing to say, and something I fully agree with.

                  It's not about Twitch's current rules - her nipple was visible, it wasn't 'focused on' but that's probably still enough for a moderator to flag it, rules-as-written. The point of her talking about it, and of the media signal boosting that, is that Twitch's rules evidently aren't aligned with broader social norms and it would be nice to raise some awareness about it in hopes of getting it changed.

                  I accept that you were intending to speak to the rules as they exist now, but I'd still like to know your view on the 'should' rather than the 'is', if you don't mind sharing. Do you think Twitch should keep its rules as-is such that breastfeeding is banned, or do you think they should allow an exception so that breastfeeding is as acceptable there as it is in public?

                  Sorry to keep pinging you but edit moderation being what it is I didn't want to risk it to add that the reason I'm asking is you seem to be pushing back against the idea that changing Twitch's rules is a reasonable outcome. It might be unintentional, but it kinda reads like you object to or otherwise have a problem with that possible outcome and would rather see it stay banned.

                  @zombiejesus - Have you looked at the Twitter thread? A significant portion of it was complaining that Twitch removed her clip and that it was wrong to do so because breastfeeding is natural and they (Twitch) also streamed an episode of Mr Roger's Neighbourhood that showed a kid getting breast fed.

                  To answer your question, honestly I couldn't really care either way if they permit it or not - I'm more pointing out that it isn't a 'right' to breastfeed on stream, and that drawing a parallel with Twitch and state law on public breastfeeding is absurd (or maybe even disingenuous). I mean I'm not going to watch it either way. The assertion that it's absolutely required that she be permitted to breastfeed on stream else she suffers some catastrophic consequence is what I'm arguing against, especially because Grayson has inserted yet another assertion that streamers are somehow employees (this is by far the biggest issue I have with the article). I don't support the inference that it's the same as somebody breastfeeding in a restaurant and think this is a separate category and shouldn't be assessed on the same merits.

                  If Twitch turns around and says "Okay you can breastfeed on stream" then okay, knock yourself out. But I'm also not going to rally against them if they decide it isn't appropriate, and IMO there's no demonstrated good reason to stream it except "Well she wants to" - which could justify a whole host of other behaviour.

                  I skimmed the Twitter thread, but I didn't go too far down the replies. I didn't see anything that she said herself that fits what you described. The Mr Rogers comment was addressed at the community outrage, not at Twitch, because it quoted community comments about her before asking "where was the outrage when...". Do you happen to have a direct link to one where she's asserted a right to stream breastfeeding?

                  I agree with you that streamers aren't employees, Twitch has no legal (nor, in my opinion, ethical) obligation to offer maternity leave payment. That kinda makes it all the more important that the service better accommodates mothers who rely on streaming income, since there isn't a safety net there.

                  I think the good reasons for allowing it should be apparent. It would allow mothers to continue doing their job and earning income while attending to their baby's needs. Breastfeeding isn't a '5 minutes and done' thing, you can't just walk off camera for a bit and come back. It can take hours, with long gaps between attachments. Laws that protect mothers' right to breastfeed in public (and in workplaces) acknowledge this.

                  On the other hand, there are no compelling reasons to disallow it. It's not sexual, it doesn't harm anyone involved, it doesn't violate any western broadcasting laws I can find (I've checked about a dozen countries), it's something that's perfectly acceptable in public.

                  I think 'there's no good reason to allow it' is a cop out. There's even less good reason to allow steamers to have an empty coffee cup in frame, but nobody objects to that.

                I'll leave an interesting fact here in case anyone reading is interested: while it's not the case in the US, Australian federal law explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of breastfeeding. Australian women have the legal right to breastfeed anywhere, any time, without sanction.

              Nobody has to make a good argument for why breastfeeding is appropriate... live streaming or anywhere else. The idea that breastfeeding is somehow sexual has been decided long ago (hint: the worldwide consensus is no.. and if you think otherwise you are likely a sicko / pervert imho).

      I agree with you on the busking thing, that's actually a really good analogy. That being said, I think the author was just pointing out that parents in "regular" jobs would have those benefits, where she doesn't, so it's more about explaining the situation than trying to argue that she should have them under Twitch.

      To be fair though, if a busker out in public has a kid which has to be fed, should that mum hide away in a locked room? I think the point the article as a whole is making is that it's just a natural thing that the (mostly, seemingly, male) world needs to get over the idea that a boob is some mythical thing that can only be "out" when it's appropriate. I guess it's more about normalizing it, rather than hiding it because it makes certain people uncomfortable.

        Hypothetically the busker has no real option but to feed in public, and is clearly not inviting public attention by performing while breastfeeding. There’s nowhere for them to go, that’d be unreasonable. That’s different from still live-streaming and trying to gain monetary compensation, then complaining about it when your clip gets removed.

        Twitch has no obligation to pay maternity leave, and I get the argument that she has to continue to avoid losing viewers - but my point is that there are easily modifiable conditions where she can feed on stream and not have clips removed for being in breach of the TOS. There’s no demonstrable need to feed on stream nor any demonstrated hardship suffered because she violated the TOS. It’s another Twitch outrage article.

    Oh, look. Something something faux outrage twitch.

    Join us tomorrow for something else upsetting someone on Twitch.

      That appears to be the content Kotaku has been putting out lately. Its pretty snooze worthy.

        Fun game: look up every negative article about Twitch on Kotaku and see if you notice any patterns. Hint: the author!

          Yeah... Got to love it when an author exploits their position as a so-called professional journalist to shove their personal activism down people's throats.

    The pictures in the article are perfectly fine I'd say, can't see anything and it's treated as a background action without attention drawn to it.

    Context is probably key in the debate though. Whilst streaming on Twitch, your sole purpose is to attract viewers and to get money from them. That's not true of just out and about breastfeeding in public.

    Who gets turned on by breastfeeding? It's not sexual at all.

      Mate, there's folks who get turned on by watching people fart on cakes.

    Is there anything actually GOOD that comes out of Twitch worth reporting?
    Most information pertaining to it's existence seems to revolve around fuckery.

      Grayson certainly wouldn't want you to think there is.

        Streamers tend to not like Grayson. I wonder why lol.

      i don't know about changing the breasfteeding rules but they should mandate that streamers be at least a little interesting, unlike this ordinary cunt in the article

      Streamers raising money for charity. No one seems to report on that, but some streamers regularly raise thousands of dollars for charities. Some of them even Australian charities.

        This is the stuff they should be reporting on! I can get behind that!
        Does Kotaku have something ahainst Twitch? I literally have never gone on to it myself as I assumed it was a den of sexism and beta males based on reading about it here. There's the fact I'd rather play games myself than watch others playing them, but mostly it just seems like I'd be getting myself into an online culture/society my morals and social convctions are not compatible with.

    Is the intent sexual? -- No.
    Should you be breastfeeding your baby live on television/in public? -- Uhh... Of course not!

    Last edited 31/07/19 5:46 pm

    If you need to breastfeed, turn the camera off and go do it? Why is this even debate. Give your baby the attention it needs.

    The child is under 13. He isn't allowed to be on twitch.

    Going to the toilet is both natural and not sexual.

    Does not mean it should be broadcasted on twitch either.

    Most streamers I watch turn off their camera when eating for example. Not that hard to do.

    Turn of the camera, Explain that you are breastfeeding your child and say the cam will be back soon.

    Easily avoidable ban.

      Do you think breastfeeding and taking a shit are a reasonable comparison, though? I think there are more factors than just 'natural' and 'not sexual' involved there. A big one would be 'is it acceptable in public', surely.

        Yeah, putting a milk excreting boob into a child's mouth is one of those things that I assumed we were all brought up to not novelise. The offensive part seems to be the involvement of a boob. In my family, breastfeeding just happens when it's needed with little thought to onlookers or their opinions. I'm a bit confused over this topic, to be honest. It's like there's no cultural middle ground in western society pertaining to public breast feeding.
        I don't think it's logical to equate breast feeding with having a dump though. One goes ina child's mouth, the other should not.

          There seems be some leftover puritanism and Victorian sensitivities in US and Commonwealth cultures that's been gradually diminishing for a while but still seems to have pockets of support, especially in older and strongly conservative communities. Being a mother is hard enough without other people trying to dictate to them that perfectly normal, natural things like feeding their child is somehow indecent and needs to be hidden away.

          The more support and less stigmatisation we can collectively offer to mothers, the less they'll need to stress about who's watching and complaining. There's a known causal relationship between the emotional state of parents and their children - relaxed, happy mums raise relaxed, happy kids.

        I've watched plenty of streamers who turn off the camera to eat or take a break to go to the toilet, the question I would ask isn't weather its natural or acceptable to do something on stream it's why you would want to in the first place.

        Why do people want to broadcast ever aspect of there lives, if your not going to take a break to feed your child then why not stream your self collecting the mail or cooking dinner or washing your car or taking a shit hell why not just put cameras in ever room in your house and be a 24hr 7 days a week IRL stream.

          People stream their lives because other people watch it. It might not be for you or me, but it is for enough people to make it worth their while.

          Feeding a baby isn't like the other things you mentioned though, it's unpredictable and can sometimes take more than an hour of on-again off-again attachment. If you don't mix it into your routine, you'll never get anything done.

            You can hit one button and the camera goes off or can focus on something else especially if twitch are going clutch their purses about it.

            My issue is like the saying goes
            "just because you can do something doesn't mean you should" like you said its not for me, honestly I blame the Kardashian's god I hate the Kardashian's.

              I just think it'd just be better all-round if Twitch stopped clutching their pearls and joined the modern world in supporting breastfeeding as an mundane, non-controversial thing.

    Let's consider this another way. Did her child give consent to be streamed? At what point (age-wise) does the child have the right to decide "hell yes, I want in" or "nope, count me out"? Maybe this is what Mr. Twitter needs to "legislate" for?

    Seems to me, taking a photo or video of your kid in some public place, a playground and posting it on Facey Book for your Friends / Friends of Friends to see is innocent enough. Parading your child about, in an intimate setting, for the entire world to see, is a totally different kettle of fish.

    Notice this has nothing to do with breastfeeding. A natural, universal human activity, that no one should ever be ashamed of.

      The age people have the right to decide for themselves is 18; children under that can't consent, even if they say they do. Until then, parents or legal guardians are responsible for consent on their behalf.

        This isn't 100% correct and is highly circumstantial. In Australia for example a child may be able to withdraw or give consent for something (e.g. medical treatment) if they can meet a certain competency standard (for example, the Gillick Competency). What you're suggesting is that any person under 18 is incapable of consent, and even by common sense that's nonsense.

        Is a baby going to meet that standard? No. Might a 13 year old? Possibly, depending on the situation. I don't know if a court would force a child to appear on a livestream just because their parents said they had to.

          It'd be impractical to list all the exceptions, but I agree they exist. The answer was intended as a broad stroke, I'm not aware of any exceptions that apply to this situation.

          On your last sentence, I think the more relevant statement would be that a court wouldn't force a child off a livestream unless there was reasonable cause to believe it posed a harm to the child or infringed their inalienable rights.

    what ever happened to "theres a time and a place?"

    If i start discussing politics or religion at a friends wedding dinner speech is that appropriate?

    How bout if i show my butt crack cause i need to scratch it?

    Some people need to understand its not an attack on breast feeding. Its questioning the approriateness of what should be private behaivour thats not suited in this situation and stop getting defensive.

    I've got absolutely no problem with women breastfeeding anywhere and any time they need to. It's normal, it's natural, it's healthy, and it's not sexual (note, breasts themselves are of course sexual, deal with it, but feeding isn't).
    Despite this, I don't think Twitch should allow it simply because it will absolutely 100% guaranteed be abused. I want to say its fine, but let's have foresight, not hindsight on this one.
    And its not at all comparable to breastfeeding in public because you can simply turn off the webcam (the stream could even continue with sound only). Whereas public you can't do that so it's not like anybody is saying "don't feed your child". The arguments are simply not comparable.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now