Monday, November 18, 2013

BREASTMILK The Movie - A Review

There were plenty of leaking breasts, milk-drunk babies, and personal testimonies, but unfortunately there wasn't enough information.

Click to watch the trailer!

Like many birth and breastfeeding professionals, I've waited months for the newest documentary by Rikki Lake and Abby Epstein (and Dana Ben-Ari), the directors of the excellent birth documentary The Business of Being Born, and was hoping it would be just as insightful, empowering, and informative... in some ways it was, but overall I was disappointed with the lack of information.

Beginning with the early breastfeeding experiences of various mothers, we continue through the first months and onto the first year with a diverse group of parents, couples, and babies.

We are witness to the first latch, numerous breastfeeding and pumping sessions, tandem nursings, and preemie supplementation. We hear about a mother's experience with induced lactation, the changing sexuality of the breasts for one father, and from many generous milk donors providing their milk to adoptive families.

The documentary demonstrates the diversity of experiences breastfeeding parents encounter and lends even more weight to the argument that we don't provide enough support to new families. One mother, a librarian who pumps for months to feed her daughter breastmilk, points out that as a country we claim to support "family values", but in reality the true picture of family across the US is hardly supported at all - an incredibly relevant observation as mother after mother is unable to meet their breastfeeding goal, or that of our country's Healthy People 2020 goals.

An unfortunate theme, pervasive throughout the film, was 'there's not enough milk'; a legitimate concern for many parents today. Mother after mother, and even the fathers, addressed concerns that they weren't making enough milk... it almost seemed as if the documentary was trying to drill this in :( 

Unfortunately I felt that the issue was never addressed beyond that. Where I saw opportunities to interview lactation specialists, health workers, and medical professionals about what a "normal" milk supply looks like, how to increase supply, and our cultural misconceptions about "low-supply", instead we hear a discourse about the importance of perceiving "an abundance of milk" - which don't get me wrong, I completely agree with, but I think is less than helpful to the majority of struggling breastfeeding mothers.

What about information on how long it takes for your supply to come in? This was only briefly addressed in that early pumping (often promoted by hospitals) can make many mothers feel they don't have enough milk because at this point it hasn't come in... but there is no real dialogue about how long it takes for breastmilk to actually come in! Colostrum, mature milk, let-down... none of these things were discussed, leaving those who don't already know about breastfeeding and breastmilk to still be in the dark.

This documentary was more of an observation of modern infant feeding practices (including breastfeeding), rather than an informative and empowering documentary about breastmilk. In the end we are left with an understanding of how difficult breastfeeding can be and that we are not alone in our struggles with breastfeeding... but nothing for what to do to improve this situation.

So enough of what I didn't like, what I did love was the montage of breasts squirting breastmilk - almost as an onscreen competition - making the audience laugh at the distance and amount of milk being sprayed everywhere; a testimony to the 'abundance of milk' discourse briefly mentioned in the film, but contrary to the mother's lived experiences of trying to salvage every last drop!

I had hoped for a movie that I could encourage expecting couples and future parents to watch and learn about breastfeeding, to even help with making a decision about breastfeeding, but I don't think that's what this movie is best for.

Rather, I'll be recommending this movie to anyone who has breastfed. This movie has the potential to help breastfeeding parents feel less guilty about their own breastfeeding experience and to know that they certainly are not alone!

One thing the movie does attempt to do is to normalize breastfeeding and to call attention to the challenges that breastfeeding in an industrialized country entails. As one mother points out, "this is what our mothers and grandmothers have been able to carve out for us in the feminist movement", having to juggle mothering and professional life - often feeling as though you aren't doing your best at either.

It is certainly upsetting to hear such negative discourse, but it is important we acknowledge the reality of motherhood (especially in the US) and how many challenges, obstacles, and road-blocks we face when it comes to parenting and feeding your baby - hopefully we can use this honest dialogue to advocate for greater family support in the US!

Overall, Breastmilk- The Movie was an enjoyable watch for someone who knows a bit about breastfeeding and breastmilk, and for those who have struggled through their own breastfeeding relationship, but I felt it needed more information for future parents and curious individuals that want to know more about how to make breastfeeding better, how to make it work!

What did YOU think about the movie? Please leave a comment!

~Wisdom and Birth

Also directed by Rikki Lake and Abby Epstein is The Business of Being Born, if you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it!!! You can find it on Netflix.


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