Jan 2018 Newsletter: “Breastmilk” Movie Review

By Grace Ooi, BMSG Volunteer

As part of our quarterly events last year, the BMSG organised a movie screening cum social event in December 2017. Below is a review of the movie, Breastmilk, that was screened, written by our volunteer Grace Ooi. All opinions presented are from the writer and does not necessarily reflect the stand of the BMSG.

Every mother’s pregnancy and breastfeeding journey will differ, but there will be aspects that you find cringingly familiar either because you’ve experienced it or you’ve heard fellow mothers talk about it. Regardless, you’ll find Breastmilk captivating simply because of the astounding similarity in experiences of breastfeeding mothers all over the world.

Mothers were interviewed about their thoughts on breastfeeding while they were pregnant. [Image Source: Breastmilk The Movie]

The movie follows five women from various cultural and socio-economic backgrounds in the United States of America (USA) who shared their experiences of transitioning from pregnancy to birth, and subsequently to breastfeeding. Director Dana Ben-Ari portrays each of their journeys in a series of interviews during pregnancy and for a significant amount of time after birth, following the ups and downs of each of their choices and experiences in breastfeeding.

The movie’s rawness can be described as frank, but more importantly, the movie seems to send across the message that all mothers would like to breastfeed their babies but a lot of them are not able to because of many contributing factors, not due to a lack of want on their part. While the movie contains no narration and makes no hints of what the director feels about what each lady is experiencing, the audience is left to make their own conclusions from the compelling cinematography of each woman’s experience,

A mother and her partner receiving breastfeeding education lessons prior to birth. [Source: Breastmilk The Movie]

The five mothers started out wanting to breastfeed. When interviewed prior to giving birth, most of them mentioned that they had heard that breastfeeding could be challenging. As it turns out, each mother faces challenges unique to their individual situations. Some of the mothers had latching and supply issues, one had lack of support from her spouse and family members, while another faced the pressure from healthcare workers at the hospital, encouraging formula feeding although baby had no latching issues. One of the mothers also had to face the difficult task of juggling work and school while trying to sustain breastfeeding.

Even when one of the mothers and her baby did not face any breastfeeding difficulties, it seemed that formula was still recommended. Her daughter was born a few weeks early and was deemed premature but had to face a paediatrician who recommended baby to be supplemented with a particular formula for weight gain. There is a high probability that many breastfeeding mothers may have travelled a similar route during the post-birth period in the hospitals and one can’t help but to empathise with the mother’s struggle to heed a medical worker’s advice versus fighting for her own choice to exclusively breastfeed.

A mother’s struggle with pressure from her family may resonate with those of us who had faced similar situations. [Image Source: Breastmilk The Movie]

The movie also points out the stark situation that many first-world mums find themselves in when it comes to sustaining breastfeeding while juggling their career or studying commitments. The movie compellingly explores the plight of one mother who was not able to afford more leave from work to spend time with the baby while another had to juggle working and studying while struggling to maintain her supply. These mothers seemed to have failed to receive support from the system and had no choice but to choose their commitments over breastfeeding. While it may seem that these mothers had tried their best, ultimately it begs the question of whether it is the system that has failed them. It seemed to suggest that more can be done to help mothers like the ones above.

A working mother’s all too familiar struggles with her supply. [Image Source: Breastmilk The Movie]

Other recurring themes in the movie are the guilt that the mother feels when she isn’t able to breastfeed her baby any longer or when she is unable to achieve her breastfeeding goals. One of the most poignant scenes in the movie was of a mother who was filmed holding her milk in two bottles still affixed with flanges. Her expression as she stares at the amount she had produced, which she felt was very little for her baby, would strike a chord in any breastfeeding working mum who had ever struggled with supply.

The mothers portrayed in the movie would easily make us empathise with them despite living in a totally different community. The issues are eerily similar. The movie certainly urges us that we as a society have a lot more to do to support mothers and the issue of breastfeeding is more complex than just bringing the baby to the breast.