A breastfeeding ad in Times Square was replaced, enraging women and mothers. Now it's back. Here's what happened.

The digital billboard showed cookbook author Molly Baz with Swehl lactation cookies over her breasts and her pregnant belly exposed.

What to know about Molly Baz and Swehl's lactation cookie ad. (Getty Images)
What to know about Molly Baz and Swehl's lactation cookie ad. (Getty Images)

A Times Square billboard promoting lactation cookies — featuring a pregnant cookbook author holding the cookies over her breasts — was replaced earlier this month, enraging women and mothers. But now, the ad is back up, thanks to a company that used its own ad space to send a major message about breastfeeding.

Molly Baz, a cookbook author, food influencer and a former editor at Bon Appetit, was featured in the ad, which included the tagline “Just Add Milk.” Currently pregnant with her first child, Baz recently teamed up with the breastfeeding startup Swehl to create a recipe for lactation cookies, which are specifically designed to help increase breast milk production in breastfeeding mothers. They often contain ingredients believed to boost milk supply, such as oats, brewer's yeast and flaxseed.

The digital advertisement, powered by Clear Channel, was initially slated to run for a week, from May 6 through Mother’s Day, May 12, for one minute an hour in Times Square. However, according to the New York Times, the ad was removed on Thursday, just three days after it went up.

Baz and Swehl allege that the billboard promoting these lactation cookies was removed for content.

Brex, the financier that assisted Swehl in displaying the ad, told ABC News in a statement that it had approved the creative content and secured the ad space to run it in Times Square but was notified later by Clear Channel that the ad was “flagged for review.” Brex said it initially "misinterpreted" Clear Channel's message to mean that the ad "had to be removed, and communicated this to Swehl," which "provided a different ad, which was displayed." However, Brex said the “ad was never pulled ... and no ad space was lost for Swehl.”

Yahoo has reached out to Brex, Clear Channel, Swehl and Baz for comment.

Elizabeth Myer, co-founder of Swehl alongside Betsy Riley, told the Times that they were both “incensed” by the news, stating, “This really highlights how we’re still dealing with systemic shame of our bodies and breasts at the highest levels.”

Baz told Good Morning America that she wanted to show a woman “empowered in her pregnancy” and that there were “a lot of different poses and stances.” Ultimately, she and the Swehl team chose the one with her full belly out.

On Instagram, shortly after the ad was replaced, Baz said “turns out these big titties and preggo belly were a little too much for Times Square.” She wrote she was “extremely disappointed” that the ad was replaced, especially considering “the landscape of other billboards in Times Square.” To prove her point, she shared in her Instagram carousel photos of scantily clad models in Times Square ads for brands like Skims, Aerie and Michael Kors. “Bring on the lingerie so long as it satiates the male gaze,” she added.

Many applauded Baz for speaking out — and were enraged about the ad being pulled. Actress Kristen Bell commented on the post, “So disappointing!!!” while Glossier founder Emily Weiss wrote, “This is so depressing and enraging.” Ghia founder Mélanie Masarin added, “Why is America so uncomfortable with women and their bodies?”

Other commenters were equally upset. One wrote, “This is pathetic and a slap in the face to all mothers. They want us pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen but we better not be proud of it! They want to force us to give birth but we better not step out in public. Absolutely despicable.”

Another added, “It annoys me so much because boys and men rarely see women in nonsexualized ads.... and then we wonder why men are weirded out by pregnant bodies or don't know how to look at women without sexualizing them.”

Currently, there is no national law about breastfeeding in public, and it is up to the states to decide how to protect people who need to feed when they are away from home. All 50 states legalized breastfeeding in public as of 2018, with the last states to do so being Idaho and Utah.

Though public breastfeeding is legal, many people still report feeling shamed by others when they do so, showing a lack of comfort around breastfeeding, even though it is a natural process.

This week, Seed — a probiotic company — used its ad space in Times Square to share the original Swehl ad, featuring Baz’s belly. Baz took to Instagram on May 17 to share how thrilled she was and posted a photo of the new ad, which is sandwiched between Seed messages that read: “Dear Molly, Thankfully, we’re not (lactose) intolerant. In solidarity, Your friends at Seed.”

Baz thanked Seed in her caption for bringing back the campaign “BIGGER THAN EVER,” applauding them for “seeing a double standard and refusing to stand for it, and for celebrating women for exactly who we are, lactating titties and all.”

She also thanked people who reached out about the ad, writing, “To alllllllll of you who have DMd, emailed, commented, shared, and amplified in the last week—yea, there’s a f*** ton of work to do to correct course in this conversation but damnnnnnn does it feel good to know how many of you stand in the right place and see things clearly.”