Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Breastmilk The Movie & How We Talk About Breastfeeding

Last weekend was the Food For Real Film Festival in Liverpool. It was a grass roots organised event where films were being shown across the city over the weekend to raise awareness of health, sustainability and food. There were lots of different films being shown over the weekend, but the one I was interested in was called Breastmilk.

I haven’t yet seen The Business of Being Born, the documentary into childbirth practices in the US, but it looks really interesting and has been on my list (of things I want to watch one day somehow) for ages. Breastmilk is the second film by the same documentary makers. Remember Ricki Lake? She’s the producer on both films, and I’ve heard only good things about the first documentary so was looking forward to seeing the new one.

The film festival was hosting the UK’s premier of the documentary, and had secured a screen at the Odeon cinema for the occasion. One thing I learnt is that if you are partial to broodiness, going to a baby-friendly screening of a documentary about babies is not a good idea. Adorable tiny babies everywhere.

The documentary was really interesting, and I would definitely recommend it if you’re interested in the politics surrounding breastfeeding. Though there are a lot of shots of lactating nipples that, accompanied with the soundtrack, seemed sort of sexual which was a bit weird for a documentary that seemed to be about normalising conversations about breastfeeding.

Through the film we were introduced to a number of new parents who had made different decisions of how to feed their children, as well as hearing from experts and health workers. It’s a US documentary so obviously some bits simply don’t apply over here. I have to say, whenever I learn anything new about the US maternity services or maternity leave I am just so glad I live in the UK. Things are far from ideal here, of course, and there are so many things that could be done to improve things for families, but I can’t help but feel lucky I’m not in the US.

It was interesting listen to different people’s opinions on breastfeeding, and how they perceived the problems of low breastfeeding rates, and even what they thought could be done about it. There were lots of interesting things in the documentary, but I’m not going to list them all here and ruin the film for you.

One thing that stuck with me though was one woman who talked about how the way we talk about breastfeeding has a role to play in how breastfeeding is perceived. Specifically, she spoke about how we emphasise how hard breastfeeding is, and how not everyone can do it, and we refer to breastmilk as ‘liquid gold’. She felt that this language made it seem almost unattainable, and set women up to accept that they may not overcome breastfeeding barriers. The woman talked about how in other cultures breastfeeding is the norm, it’s not seen as anything special. In those cultures, women expect to be able to breastfeed because breastfeeding is so normal.

I thought that was really interesting, and it stuck with me long after I left the cinema. I have previously stressed the difficulty of breastfeeding to pregnant friends, not to put them off, but simply to prepare them for those first few days of struggle. I remember how hard those first few days are, and how much you want to give in and abandon breastfeeding, but I think I remembered what all my friends had said about how there is a learning curve, and how it gets easier, and I think that gave me the strength to persevere.

I would worry that without having that expectation of an initial struggle, that I would have assumed I ‘couldn’t breastfeed’ when it hadn’t come quite as naturally to me as I might have liked. But, how do you find the balance between preparing a woman to expect breastfeeding to be tough, and talking about it in a way that normalises breastfeeding and makes it seem like something everyone can do?

I think the problem lies in the fact that not everyone does do it, and for those of us who struggled and persevered, there is a pride that comes from that. I do think it was hard work to battle through those difficult early days, and I’m really glad I did because I feel it was so worth it and made life so much easier in the long run.

How do you talk to pregnant friends about breastfeeding? Do you think we unwittingly make breastfeeding out to be almost unattainable?

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