By Ricki Lake
The subject of breastfeeding has become a loaded political issue, with articles popping up weekly about how feminism, race and class affect breastfeeding rates and spreadsheets detailing the IQ points your child will gain with each month of extended breastfeeding. The U.K. government is offering shopping vouchers for mothers who nurse for six months. Even Obamacare has taken a stance, guaranteeing coverage for lactation consultants and pump rentals.
Over the years, my producing partner, Abby Epstein, and I have received hundreds of emails asking us to follow up our 2008 film “The Business of Being Born” with an expose about breastfeeding. That is why Abby and I are so thrilled to be executive producing Dana Ben-Ari’s, new documentary, “Breastmilk,” which follows a diverse group of New York City mothers from pregnancy through the first year of their child’s life. The intimate portraits in the film fearlessly illustrate why 85 percent of American women are breastfeeding their children at birth, yet just three months later only a third of those mothers are still nursing. We were drawn to “Breastmilk” because it never mentions breastfeeding statistics, formula companies, conspiracies or IQ points. It’s refreshingly free of advocacy and hysteria, instead focusing on the quotidian challenges faced by these mothers and fathers as they consider the decision of whether to breastfeed and what to anticipate.
Socially and politically, breastfeeding seems to be having a big moment in this country.
It’s ironic that so many other cultures just don’t seem to understand why Americans are so conflicted about breastfeeding. Midwife Ina May Gaskin talks about this country having “Nipple-phobia” and Lena Dunham posted a censored photo of her friend breastfeeding saying “….the nipple is dope. Instagram, get down with the nipple.” Salma Hayek caused a global uproar when she spontaneously breastfed a malnourished baby on a tour of Sierra Leone. How are we to change policy and create a social system to support breastfeeding with all this prudish absurdity about nipples and side-boob? Seriously, I challenge you to visit any other country in the world where they are selling things called “hooter hiders” for discreet public breastfeeding. This country has created a market around hiding the lactating breast. Why do babies have to nurse under a blanket where they can’t look into their mother’s eyes? What message are we sending to our children about human connection?
I know “Breastmilk” will continue the conversation around supporting women’s choices during childbirth and beyond. There is still too much pressure on women to navigate this territory alone and succeed at their own cost. We hope you will join us in supporting the opening of “Breastmilk” at IFC Center in New York this weekend and at Laemmle Theaters in Los Angeles beginning May 16. We are also encouraging communities all over the world to host screenings of “Breastmilk” leading up to Breastfeeding Awareness Month in August. Join the movement to help us figure out how best to support mothers and the choices they make around breastfeeding. (More info at breastmilkthemovie.com and thebusinesofbeingborn.com)