Director: Dana Ben-Ari
For a natural experience that is older than modern, upright homo sapiens and is shared among countless species of mammal across the globe, breastfeeding carries a stigma around inside the borders of our society that is as nonsensical as it is undeniable. Whether it occurs at the hospital after birth, at work in a dark room, at a restaurant table, or at home lying comfortably on a bed, breastfeeding is constantly under judgement and scrutiny. Women are told how to feel about it, men are taught to look away from it, strangers become entitled to share their opinions on it, and the entire activity becomes a complicated social issue when at its core nothing could be more simple. Breastmilk is a documentary that explores what it is like to be an American mother weighing the options surrounding breastfeeding, and how our culture has shaped our perception 0f this most basic practice.
Each mother who prepares for the birth of her child, and each partner who prepares to become a parent, is faced with a barrage of choices: which stroller is best, how much time will I take off work, who will watch the baby when I am busy, do I want a natural childbirth, which toys are safe, what should I name the baby? And in our modern world, breastfeeding has become just another in a long line of worries. Mothers must decide whether to exclusively nurse their child, whether to nurse and supplement with formula, or whether to choose formula feeding entirely. Occasionally these decisions are made for them by medical/health situations, but often the choice is their own. Some mothers will be at work, some fathers will be uncomfortable, and so the natural process of breastfeeding becomes a debatable issue, one that hinges on personal preference and ability.
Over the course of this simple documentary, we meet both average parents and experienced specialists who all view breastfeeding from their own points of view. A new mom produces so much milk that she stores it in the freezer, donating it to a couple who wants to feed it to their adopted baby. A biologist couple want to exclusively breastfeed, but her milk supply is low and the baby’s tongue is attached to its mouth in a way that hinders feeding. A lesbian couple breastfeed in turn, and don’t accept the negative viewpoint of those who may think their lifestyle is strange. A librarian pumps at work in a private office, but doesn’t understand why even a school for children has such an outdated stance of motherhood. These are just some of the stories we hear over the course of 90 minutes, just a sample of the myriad of parents who deal with the complications of breastfeeding every day.
One specialist sums it up best when she talks about the pressure put on women when it comes to their breast milk; every drop is scared, it’s liquid gold, pump every ounce you can, make sure you have enough to satisfy your child, take whatever dietary supplements you need. While she agrees that breastfeeding is natural and wonderful, she questions the amount of importance we place on it, in an evolutionary sense. If one woman in a village didn’t have enough milk, another would feed her child, milk isn’t a rare commodity, it’s as basic a human function as you can imagine. This is just one viewpoint shared in the documentary, but it captures the general feel of the film; that our society has put so many boundaries on breastfeeding that it has lost its simplicity. A mother nursing her child isn’t newsworthy, at its most basic, and yet we form battle lines around the issue as if it were a problem to be solved.
The movie is made simply, without the intrusion of a narrator or even an interviewer; the stories tell themselves. We sit and watch a variety of women feed their children and talk about their personal experiences; what they feared, how they see their role, in what ways societal pressure has influenced them as mothers. More an in-class perspective piece and less a theatrical film, Breastmilk nevertheless has a powerful message to convey; that women from a multitude of backgrounds all face the same adversity in balancing modern living with the evolutionary urge to give of themselves to their children, that our own predispositions to the subject affect how we face it. At its core, this film is frank talk about a subject that is increasing in relevance in response to the neofeminist movement; women want equality but they also want to be feminine, putting breastfeeding at the center of the conversation and making documentaries like this ultra-important.
Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (16×9), the video quality of this film will not impress anyone. But that’s not the point, it’s obviously not important to the filmmaker if we are stunned by visuals, the interviews are the main attraction and they speak for themselves.
Audio – Done in English 2.0 Stereo, the audio isn’t much better, but again, it doesn’t need to be. There are no other language or sound options, so look elsewhere for technical marvels.
Extras – The only special feature on the disc is a trailer for the film.
Recommended. There’s no need to go into the details of my own story, but I am a stay-at-home father whose children were breast fed. Where once I was a young man who was made uncomfortable by the very idea of breastfeeding, that feeling swiftly fled as my wife, a couple classes, and my own babies taught me the value of nursing, and how normal it can feel. This topic is an important one only in the sense that we have made it much bigger than it needs to be, have built it up as an arguable stance, when breastfeeding is older than humanity and should be something we take for granted, like breathing or chewing or scratching an itch. This film brings up the problems that breastfeeding faces in the modern world, and for that should be something shown in parenting classes and school rooms across the country; I think it could absolutely do some good. The technical side of the movie will not impress, but I don’t really view it as a film to be judged against other films. I see it as a conversation being started because sometimes conversations are hard to start, and this is one we shouldn’t ignore.
☆ ☆ ☆ – Content
☆ ☆ – Video
☆ ☆ – Audio
☆ – Extras
☆ ☆ – Replay