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.



December 2017 – Behold, the Breastfeeding Madonna

By Karen Abts, BMSG Volunteer

May the depictions of Mother Mary breastfeeding the infant Jesus in early Christian art uplift us in our nursing journey this Christmas.

Christmas has taken on a deeper reality for me after having children. In celebrating Jesus’s birth, we are struck by His Humanity: this swaddled infant, born in the humblest of places, must have fed at the breasts of His Mother, Mary!

Yet I had never thought of Mary and Jesus as a breastfeeding dyad until I encountered this in religious art. As a new breastfeeding parent then, I felt comforted and affirmed by images of Mary nursing as it provided me with a relatable icon from antiquity and reminded me of the intentional, life-giving design of the female body.

Maria Lactans in Early Christian Art

Among various depictions of Mary throughout history, the motif of Maria lactans [i] (Latin for “Mary nursing”) featured prominently in the Middle Ages until the Renaissance (Gibson, 2012). Maria lact was first seen to mature in the East among the Coptic Christians while the Byzantines called their interpretation, Theotokos galaktotrophousa (Greek for “God-Bearer Milk-Giver”) (Miesel, 2009). In Russia, such iconography is called Mlekopitatelnitsa (“Milk-Feeding”), with Mary’s breast oddly depicted near her shoulder to avoid any trace of sensuality (David, 2016).

Figure 1: The oldest known image of Mary is a third-century fresco in the Priscilla catacombs in Rome (The Vatican, n.d.) showing her cradling the infant Jesus.


Figure 2: Among the Copts (native, non-Greek Christians of Egypt) were several early depictions of Maria lactans. Seen today in the Coptic Museum in Cairo alongside other Egyptian goddesses giving breast: Isis to her son, Horus, and Renenutet to Neper (ca 7 Century).


Devotion to Our Lady of the Milk

As the West adopted the Byzantine icons, European artists sculpted three-dimensional figurines and Renaissance masters including Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Rembrandt perfected paintings of Maria lactans up until the 18th century. Spanish missionaries brought their devotion to Nuestra Señora de La Leche y Buen Parto (Our Lady of the Milk and Happy Delivery) to the United States around the 1600s. It was once thought that “the virgin’s nursing breast, the lactating virgin, was the primary symbol of God’s love for humanity” (Miles & Lyon, 2008).

Figure 3: The last surviving Vierge ouvrante (opening Virgin) statuette, showing a Maria lactans that opens up to Maria gravidas (Mary pregnant) that gives birth to the Trinity. (ca 1300)

Figure 4: Litta Madonna (Madonna and Child), ca. 1490s is traditionally attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519) but some contend it was partially assisted by Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio (1466-1516).

Figure 5: Madonna delle Grazie, Filotesi dell Amatrice, 1508, shows Mary extinguishing purgatorial fires with breastmilk.

Figure 6: St. Bernard and The Virgin, Alonso Cano, c. A.D. 1650. This is one of several paintings featuring “The Miraculous Lactation of St. Bernard”. Legend goes that Bernard prayed before a statue of the Madonna, asking her, “Monstra te esse Matrem” (“Show yourself a mother”). The statue came to life and squirted breastmilk from the breast onto his lips.

Figure 7: Rest on the Flight to Egypt. Francisco de Zurbaran, ca 1659.


In Church and Around Us Today

Pope Francis invoked this ancient devotion earlier this year when he welcomed mothers at his sermon to feed their babies “just as Mary breastfed Jesus[ii] (Vatican Radio, 2017), reiterating his encouragement for breastfeeding mothers time and again. Today, there is a resurgence in this devotion among mothers, breastfeeding advocates and pro-life[iii]. In Singapore, the Catholic Mount Alvernia Hospital features a sculpture of Mary breastfeeding.

Figure 8: A close-up of the statue of Our Lady on the exterior of the catholic Mount Alvernia Hospital in Singapore.

When you go into Church this season, I hope the image of Maria lactans stays positively with you and encourage you to feed your children in Church without fear. Merry Christmas!



Image References:

  1. Figure 1: Image downloaded on 9 December 2017 from the Gallery of Maria Lactans on fisheaters.com. Tucciarone, Tracy. Maria Lactans: Mary as Nursing Mother. [Online] Available https://www.fisheaters.com/images/marialactans1.jpg (link to image)
  2. Figure 2: Image downloaded on 11 December 2017 from http://www.instituteoftheincarnateword.org/accompanying-mary-season-advent-copts/ Link to image: http://www.instituteoftheincarnateword.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/SSVM-Adviento-Maria-4.jpg
  3. Figure 3: Download from https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/17.190.185/
  4. Figure 4: Image downloaded on 12 December 2017 from http://www.themasterpiececards.com/famous-paintings-reviewed/bid/38042/Famous-Paintings-by-Leonardo-da-Vinci
  5. Figure 5: Image downloaded on 11 December 2017 from http://valeriya.in/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-medieval-lactation/
  6. Figure 6: Image downloaded on 11 December 2017 from the Fisheaters Gallery of Maria Lactans. Link to image: https://www.fisheaters.com/images/marialactans-miraculouslactationofstbernard.jpg
  7. Figure 7: Image downloaded on 11 December 2017 from the Fisheaters Gallery of Maria Lactans. Link to image: https://www.fisheaters.com/images/marialactans1659.jpg
  8. Figure 8: Image downloaded on 6 December 2017 from http://fmdminternational.co.uk/our-locations/malaysia-and-singapore/

Works Cited

Miesel, S. (2009, October 3). Mothering God. Retrieved November 22, 2017, from Crisis Magazine: http://www.crisismagazine.com/2009/mothering-god

Gibson, D. (2012, December 11). Jesus was not a bottle baby. What happened to Maria Lactans? Retrieved November 22, 2017, from Commonweal Magazine: https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/jesus-was-not-bottle-baby-what-happened-maria-lactans

Miles, M., & Lyon, V. (2008). A Complex Delight: The Secularization of the Breast, 1350-1750. Berkeley: University of California Press.

The Vatican. (n.d.). The Christian Catacombs: The catacombs and the Mother of God. Retrieved from The Holy See: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_commissions/archeo/inglese/documents/rc_com_archeo_doc_20011010_cataccrist_en.html#Madre

Vatican Radio. (2017, January 8). Pope Francis baptises 28 in the Sistine Chapel. Vatican.

David. (2016, June 23). The Nursing Goddess: From Isis to Mary. Retrieved from Icons and Their Interpretation: https://russianicons.wordpress.com/tag/galaktotrophousa/

[i]A comprehensive chronological Gallery of Maria Lactans can be found at fisheaters.com: Tucciarone, Tracy. Maria Lactans: Mary as Nursing Mother. [Online] Available https://www.fisheaters.com/marialactans.html

[ii] Pope Francis baptises 28 in the Sistine Chapel, 8 January 2017, Vatican Radio http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2017/01/08/pope_francis_baptises_28_babies_in_the_sistine_chapel/1284342

[iii] In the Philippines, for instance, the devotion to Our Lady of La Leche was promoted since 2000 with permission from the late Manila Archibishop Jaime Cardinal Sin. Source: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/254228/devotion-growing-for-breast-feeding-virgin-mary