Reflecting on ‘Milk-Born into this World’

This post was written back in May. I intended to publish it then until I decided to take parental leave for the summer.

————————————

I recently had the pleasure of attending Milwaukee County Breastfeeding Coalition’s community screening of Noemi Weis’s documentary Milk- Born into this World.

Immediately, I was struck by the impeccable visuals and stunning intricacies captured. The hills and valleys of a pregnant woman. The dirt under an Auntie’s nails. The creases and wrinkles of the elderly and the newly born.

Overwhelmed by the film’s beauty, I also found myself overwhelmed by the number of topics presented. By introducing the politics, commercialization and controversies surrounding birth and infant feeding, it gave viewers a glimpse into the complexities associated with infant nutrition. It left me wanting so much more though (maybe that was the point.) I found myself lost in the sheer magnitude of topics presented:

Social media. One mother in the film described her relationship with social media and how it became a tool for her to connect with other like-minded mothers. Connecting with women on Facebook encouraged her to practice child-led weaning. She also uses social media to help other mothers share donor human milk.

Training of health workers. The film brought to light the fact that globally, health workers are not properly trained in infant nutrition which can disempower families and can lead to infant death.

Sexuality. “A natural birth is an expression of a woman’s sexuality,” Élisabeth Badinter, Philosopher, Professor, Author stated. Sexuality as it relates to birth and breastfeeding was woven throughout the film. It came to perfect culmination with the montage of Hollie McNish performing her incredible spoken word piece, Embarrassed.  

Marketing of breastmilk substitutes. “Legislation without sanctions is like a toothless bulldog,” Terry Wefwafwa, Head of the Division of Nutrition, Ministry of Health, Kenya said in the film. Milk covered the implementation and enforcement, or lack thereof, of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. It demonstrated formula companies’ horrific violations of The Code.

Teen pregnancy and motherhood. The maturity and grace of the 15-year-old mother featured was simply remarkable. Only a snippet of her story shared, I wondered how her age, race and socioeconomic status may have impacted the care she received and the outcome of her birth and infant feeding experience.

Midwifery care. Midwives rock. They improve birth outcomes. Only a traditional midwife featured in the film, of course I wanted more. It could have done viewers such a great service to see the range of midwifery care available. I worry that the depiction of a traditional midwife, although extremely important and of great value, makes “alternative birth” look too exotic.  

Birth intervention. It was mentioned that widespread and often unnecessary intervention during birth results in poor infant feeding outcomes. I vividly recall two women who shared their emotional c-section birth stories caused by unnecessary intervention.

Infant feeding during emergencies. Milk covered the devastation the Philippines suffered after one of the worst typhoons ever recorded and the lasting, tragic effects of artificial milk donations.

Formula feeding. One mother shared that she chose to formula feed because she said it was the best choice for her family. She mentioned that her husband wanted to be able to bond with their baby. (Don’t most dads and partners want to connect with their babies regardless of infant feeding method?) She also said that she knew she needed time away from her baby. (I’m a mother who chooses to breastfeed and I can assure you, I need time away from my children too.) It was interesting to watch this mother interact with her child; I noticed that she did not hold him to feed him the contents of his bottle. Instead, she sat next to him as he held his bottle while relaxing on a pillow. This mother’s comments and the intricacies of her relationship with her baby deserve a film all its own.

Prematurity. Milk showed a baby born at 26 weeks and 1 day and his mother in the NICU. The mother shared her appreciation for donor human milk while she continued to pump for him. A clip showed her using a Q-tip to rub her milk in his mouth before she could even hold him. His tongue undulated. It was incredible to watch this connection!

Human donor milk and human milk banks. The film touched on a brief history of human milk banks and discussed the importance of human donor milk. It highlighted Brazil’s efforts, including a fire department making milk collections in their neighborhoods, just part of the country’s incredible network.

Feminism and women’s empowerment. This theme was woven throughout the documentary.

Policies for working mothers. Milk shed light on the status of paid maternity leave in the U.S. Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney voiced her concerns as a champion for breastfeeding mothers.

Stigmatization and Mom Guilt. While breastfeeding mothers shared their concerns about stereotyping, formula feeding mothers also weighed in.

Surely, all of these topics belong in the conversation about birth and breastfeeding. However, each in its own provides such a lush amount of material– enough for a separate film or films about each– it made it challenging to digest them all in one sitting. I would be so thrilled if Weis decided to tackle each separately!

Some final thoughts about Milk- Born into this World:

In roughly an hour and 20 minutes, Milk celebrated diversity through its juxtaposition of several women as they navigated their journeys through motherhood.

While diversity and individuality celebrated, Milk also demonstrated a common thread, one of empowerment and choice, one of Motherhood.

Finally, I exalt Weis for honoring the female connection and feminine power. Some of the most striking moments in the film were of the intense bond between two women– a mother and daughter, a midwife and mentor, a mother and midwife. Still, as I watched I wondered, Where are the men? They are certainly a vital part of this conversation, this agenda. Why were they not represented?
Have you seen Milk-Born into this World? Tell us, what did you think? Learn much, much more about the film here. Click here to host a screening.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.