Last night was the much anticipated Washington DC premiere of Breastmilk: The Movie from first time director/producer Dana Ben-Ari and executive producers Ricki Lake & Abby Epstein hosted by Claudia Booker – Birthing Hands of DC.
Claudia introduced the film as a cautionary tale inviting us to think as we watch, not just about breastmilk, but about the support around breastfeeding mothers. She said that we need to bring in our partners, our men as vanguards to breastfeeding because it takes a family to raise a baby no matter what that family looks like. Yes, we need to surround ourselves with the women in our life, but our partners need to be educated about breastfeeding and support of breastfeeding. Who is usually with us at 3 a.m. when we are trying to latch our babies? Not very many of us are lucky enough to have our mothers, sisters, aunts near us and if we do how many of the women in our lives who birthed before us actually breastfed a baby? There are generations of women who don’t what normal breastfeeding looks like. As so many of us know, there are well meaning people in our lives who unintentionally throw roadblocks into our breastfeeding relationships.
The emphasis on breastmilk as opposed to breastfeeding is clear in the opening scenes of the movie. The first image is that of a breast being expressed by a pump. This is a clear reflection of the breastfeeding culture in the U.S. today. Women talk about breastfeeding and breastmilk feeding as though they are one in the same. So much emphasis is put on pumping, not expression, but pumping. “Have you bough your pump yet? What kind did you get? When are you going to start pumping? How much should I be pumping? How often do I pump?” As much as women know about pumps we don’t know enough about normal breastfeeding. Isn’t this what should come first? Do you know that manual expression (not with a manual pump but with your hands) is often more efficient than a pump? This is true especially in the early days and weeks of breastfeeding! But how many classes teach manual expression? I know I’ve been guilty of teaching about hand expression, but not necessarily teaching the technique. What about breastfeeding? What does normal breastfeeding look like? Why does the baby have a witching hour in the evening? Do you know that watching the baby not the clock will tell you how often your breastfed baby needs to feed? It’s ok for baby to want to put their hands in their mouth when it’s time to feed. It’s ok if your new baby wants to feed every 90 minutes. Breastfeeding is not supposed to hurt. Pain is not normal and is an indication that something with the baby’s latch needs to change. Breastfeeding a baby after eruption of teeth is normal. Breastfeeding a baby past a year is normal. Tandem feeding is normal. Breastfeeding in public is normal Who is talking these aspects of breastfeeding? In my opinion, not enough people.
The movie show many of the interruptions women and babies have while they are trying to learn to breastfeed, especially in the hospital. Mairi Breen Rothmann who spoke after the movie quoted a study I’ve heard before where women who birth in hospital are interrupted an average of every 17 minutes! If a newborn feeding session (positioning, latching, re-latching, re-positioning, feeding) takes about 40 minutes, she’s interrupted 3 times in that one session. This only stresses that the Golden Hour after birth needs to be protected and revered so that the initial feed happens without interruption and subsequent feeds are easier for everyone. Babies should not be taken from their mommas to be bathed early in this relationship, certainly not taken away for hours on end creating anxiety and doubt for the mother. They need that smell of amniotic fluid on their bodies to help them organize and find the breast, to properly colonize with momma. There is one hospital in this area I know categorizes babies as hazardous materials if they have not been bathed and the staff are required to wear gloves to handle the baby. A grand policy in my eyes, only the parents should have hands on the baby.
The shape and shade of the families is phenomenal. It’s not a movie about the typical middle-class white, husband and wife breastfeeding couple. There are families of color, adoptive families, same sex families, single parents, working parents, stay at home dads, you name it. Subjects discussed through the movie include extended breastfeeding, milksharing, formula feeding, tongue tie, induced lactation, going back to school or back to work, pumping, relationships, sex and intimacy, public breastfeeding and many worries about milk supply. So much is packed into a short 90 minutes. And I haven’t even touched on the experts who share all kinds of information surrounding breastfeeding.
Many of the interviews take place in the bedroom of the families, on their beds. It’s very warm and intimate. The opening scene of the trailer is just that, an interview from the bed. This particular couple crack me up! Even with this humor there are elements of guilt, shame, embarrassment, failure as well as immense pride and joy. The emotions run the gamut.
The biggest surprise for me was the outcomes as they follow the families for a year. I think you will be surprised too.
I hope this film will serve as another jump-start to the conversation about breastfeeding in the United States. We need a change in the culture of breastfeeding for the health of our children, our society, our health care system, our future.
Some of my favorite clips are in the trailer. Watch it here.