December marks some major milestones in our clan. It’s Maddie’s first Christmas and if all goes to plan, we’ll have exclusively breastfed for six months. It’s been no easy feat (despite the fact that I didn’t get lumbered with the likes of latch problems, over-supply or formula-pushing doctors like most of my fellow moms). But even when it’s straightforward, juggling daily pumping sessions, whilst guzzling pints of milk thistle tea and attempting public nursing can leave you frazzled and questioning the point of it all. So it makes sense that only 25% of women breastfeed up to a year, while only 16% exclusively breastfeed to 6 months (as recommended by the World Health Organization).
For Brooklyn mom Dana Ben-Ari, this was a pressing topic that she wanted to highlight in her directorial documentary debut, Breastmilk. Recognizing that her friends and the local community were going through the same issues, she felt the need to document and validate these experiences. “There’s this impression in the US that everyone is pressured, everyone is breastfeeding – but in reality it’s not true,” says the former teacher. “Very few women are still nursing past the first few weeks or three months.”
In Breastmilk, which is exec produced by The Business of Being Born‘s Ricki Lake and Abbey Epstein, we delve into the everyday lives of five moms-to-be in their late stages of pregnancy through to their babies’ first year. They optimistically express their desires to breastfeed but are faced with social, practical and biological challenges along the way. A mother receives conflicting advice from medical professionals. A husband questions his wife’s supply but supplements anyway. A mom struggles to pump on demand when she returns to work.
“In a very interesting way, at the end of the film, out of the five women there’s only one who’s still breastfeeding at the end of one year. What fascinates me is that it very much mirrors the statistics.”
Lack of support both at home and in the workplace, together with poorly informed medical professionals, are to blame. “Partners aren’t very informed. How many times have you heard your friends tell you about their husbands hurrying them up during a feed? There is that kind of impatience that forces you to slow down and we’re not in the culture that encourages it. Then there’s the workplace. There’s no maternity leave. Most women start giving up and the anxiety around production has to do with knowing that at some point you have to go back to work. If you didn’t have that, if you had more time at home, paid or extended maternity, you would be more relaxed about it.”
Breastmilk also highlights some common taboos. We meet a lesbian couple who both breastfeed their only child. A mother, who donates her over-supply to a white family, turns to the camera to ask “do they know I’m black?”. More controversially, the documentary explores breastfeeding as a form of porn. “Breastfeeding and our breasts are part of our reproductive rights and is an extension of our reproductive rights. If we have that understanding we’re more likely to accept that it’s part of women’s sexuality,” says Dana.
So what words of wisdom can she offer to fellow Brooklyn moms hoping to breastfeed? “If they have difficulties, there are ways of getting the right information and getting around it and it will be work. Everyone may tell them that they’re crazy that they can feel guilty and it’s going to be okay but it undermines them and doesn’t help at all. It makes them feel worse for themselves so my advice is to find a friend or person who has been through it. They need to find their support system.”
To host a Breastmilk screening, visit here.