Breastmilk The Movie | Review
Directed by Dana Ben-Ari, Breastmilk explores how the personal becomes political. In the infancy of the Women’s Right’s Movement in the 1960’s, women’s rights meant having control over their bodies and their decisions about motherhood. Somewhere along the way, domesticity started to be perceived as an unwelcome and unenlightened pursuit as far as women’s rights were concerned. Some fifty years later, the discourse is shifting again. Contemporary feminists are making room to value motherhood and breastfeeding has become a part of that conversation. An expert in the film uses the term “biological feminism.”
The opening shot of the film is a super-close-up of a lucious breast being suctioned by a breast pump. While MomCave uses the breast pump as comedy fodder in several of our web series episodes, this was something completely different. There was a beauty, a seriousness, and a “shouldn’t that HURT” quality to the film’s opening. Languidly, the camera pans down the tubes to pristine white milk being slow-dripped into a bottle. All I could think was, “That stuff is valuable!”
And so it is. While the film clearly sides with those who choose to breastfeed, it also explores the stories of some who either choose or are forced to go the formula route. Especially poignant are the stories of several young less-educated girls who are helped by the WIC program. The well-meaning workers at WIC try their best to encourage breastfeeding. But being hooked up to a baby or a pump for hours a day isn’t so easy when you are working a minimum wage job with less-than-understanding supervisors AND going to night school. The WIC workers wonder, in hushed voices, what would happen if WIC didn’t offer formula.
One of those girls explains how she was worried that, at nine months pregnant, she wasn’t making milk yet. She thought she’d better use a breast pump to “get things going.” The act of pumping started her contractions. In bed, minutes after her baby is born, she laments to her mom that the milk STILL hasn’t come in. This scene broke my heart. She wanted badly to do the right thing for her child yet she was so ill-informed about how breastfeeding actually works.
On the other end of the socio-economic spectrum is a Brooklyn couple, who looked to be in their late thirties. Both were biologists by trade. Moments after the birth of their son, an efficient nurse hands the baby over to mom for his first meal. The parents tell the nurse that they don’t want to put the baby on the boob quite yet. They want him to “find his way.” The nurse was hilarious. She obviously thought these people were nuts, but kept a professional demeanor. The biologist couple were so sweet, waiting for their newborn to use his animal instincts to find the milk. He didn’t. When the nurse finally sticks a breast in his mouth (without saying “I told you so”), he sucks away happily. I found their little experiment both adorable and nonsensical. If a baby has an instinct to find the milk, wouldn’t a mama also have an instinct to give it to him?
One of my favorite couples featured in the film were the Australian lesbian moms. The non-biological mom was able to induce lactation in only five days! She has one of the best soundbites (I’m paraphrasing here), “My brain recognizes that this is my daughter. It’s amazing that my body now recognizes that, too.”
The film is well-worth seeing if you are interested in and pro-breastfeeding, though I have a feeling it may leave some formula-using moms feeling judged. I would have liked to see them show a formula-feeding mom who did so for reasons other than reluctant ones and heard her side of the story.
But as a mom who thought she’d hate breastfeeding then ended up loving it so much she wrote a web series about it… I give it three boobs up!