Breastmilk The Movie

This post was written in October shortly after the screening, there will be a new screening on February 8th at the Rosendale Theatre. Get ready for a night of discussion and revelation. This film is so thought-provoking that it was very difficult to write about after only one viewing. I look forward to seeing it again. It is truly revolutionary. 

Breastmilk is a truly amazing film that was screened October 4th at the Woodstock Film Festival. This film is so revolutionary that it is difficult to describe, so I will start by paraphrasing the film’s official website:  Director/producer Dana Ben-Ari, after the birth of her first child, became fascinated with breastfeeding then decided to cover the subject of breastmilk and breastfeeding, after the birth of her second child, on film. The intent of the film is to provoke discussion and examine why, while breastmilk is touted as the best thing for babies and mothers, are there still so many women who are not successful at exclusively breastfeeding for the recommended first 6 months or more. (
The film followed the stories of several different families and their experiences with breastfeeding or obtaining breastmilk for their babies. In addition to the wonderful images of happy nursing babies and toddlers, there were thought-provoking and delightful images, like a child drinking her mama milk with a straw while blowing bubbles into it and a mother adding breast milk to her morning omelet. The film sadly shows, however, that there are still issues in our society surrounding the subject and perception of breastfeeding. Nursing in public is sometimes seen as obscene, and all too many of the mothers struggled with the fear of not producing enough milk. These mothers were advised to supplement with or completely switch over to infant formula by medical professionals or by well-meaning but misinformed fathers. Some women simply lacked the confidence and support to continue to breastfeed. One of the younger mothers, in the end, stated that going to school and working made it too difficult to successfully breastfeed and pump even though she tried and her initial plan was to breastfeed.  She ended up exclusively using formula fairly early on. 
I found the story about a lesbian couple from Australia who co-nursed their daughter to be fascinating. The non-gestational mother was able to induce lactation naturally and they both successfully shared the nursing duties. It was amazing to hear their story.  I knew that with hormone prescriptions lactation could be induced, but I had no idea that it could be done without any artificial hormones or drugs. This couple also shared their feelings on nursing and how different Americans’ attitudes toward breastfeeding are from Australians’. They couldn’t understand how so many American women seem to have supply issues. They speculated that it is a cultural issue because milk supply issues are almost unheard of in Australia. 
The movie also gave a glimpse into the challenges low-income mothers face by showing a discussion between a WIC counselor and a mother. The mother was at a WIC office to obtain a new formula for her child because she had been allergic to a few of the others she had tried. The counselor asked the woman if she felt confused about the messages sent by WIC about breastfeeding because they offer free formula. The mother felt that her decision to use formula was very clear and there was no confusion at all.  A community educator from WIC who is very pro-breastfeeding mentioned that it would be interesting to see what would happen if WIC no longer offered formula.  Would it force more women to at least try to breastfeed? Did they really want to “force” women to breastfeed?  She knows all they can do really is offer the info, educate, and support the women’s choices.  There was also a wonderful montage of bountiful squirting lactating breasts of all sizes, shapes, colors, and amounts of milk.  It was a great representation of how every mother and baby are similar but unique.  We mothers have a kinship but we can all mother differently and still have great thriving families just the same.

At the Q&A portion of the evening with the filmmaker, one man stood up to say that he thinks that men will LOVE this film.  Secretly I groaned inside thinking, “what a pig”…and then he redeemed himself by saying there is so much a man can learn from this film. He felt that men will be fascinated by the “mechanics” behind lactation that they might not otherwise be informed about.  I was excited to hear that, and I totally agree that if more men saw this it would help society see breastfeeding as normal and there would be more support for it. A successful breastfeeding relationship between mother and child largely depends on the partner’s comfort level with it and overall support.  One family in the film spoke about how when they became pregnant the father’s attitude totally changed. This self-described “rock and roll slacker” suddenly kicked into full gear to work hard and provide for his family. Once the baby was born he did all that he could to make sure the mother was taken care of so that she could do what she needed to do for their child.  That was the best example of fatherly support I could imagine. Overall, I think the movie points out that in society ideas about breasts are all over the place.  Are they sexual, are they mothering, are they comforting, are they for babies?  I think that the answer is that they are all these things and that’s wonderful.