As part of our ‘No Shame’ campaign, this past Monday we hosted a screening of the documentary ‘Breastmilk’. The main focus of the campaign is to put an end to the stigma surrounding certain elements of women’s bodies. From body hair to stretch marks, we want to raise awareness of the uniqueness of our form and celebrate womanhood in all shapes and sizes. Breasts, in our media-centric society, are particularly sexualised meaning that a human process as natural and as necessary as breast feeding is deemed to be ‘inappropriate’ when performed in public and, as a consequence, mothers feel as though they must hide away from disapproving stares and mumbling negativity.
The film brought much of my ignorance about breastfeeding and plain old human biology to the fore. I found myself asking questions such as ‘what’s a mammary gland?’ and ‘can a baby safely consume milk from a woman who is not their biological mother?’. New terms were being thrown around such as ‘engorgement’ and ‘latching’ that made me feel out of my depth. (FYI, engorgement is when your breast is full of milk, and latching is when the baby takes to the nipple and begins to suck). Not only did the film expose to me the seemingly ‘foreign’ language of breastfeeding, I also became aware of the psychological strains that it imposes on women. The film emotively depicted the pressures that surrounds mothers in some communities when complications arise concerning their milk capacity. Many women in the documentary were not able to produce ‘enough milk’ for their babies, and so were urged by health professionals to supplement breastmilk with formula milk.This really confused me. Just a few hundred years ago, when formula milk was yet to be invented, mothers would have had to breastfeed – it was quite literally a matter of life and death. Now however, a large majority of women have trouble providing enough milk for the healthy development of their children. The film proposed many reasons why this might be the case, but the reason that stood out to me was the sheer amount of milking that needed to happen in order to stimulate sufficient milk production. Some women were worried that if they relied solely on breastfeeding to nourish their babies, they would be much less efficient in their jobs due to the amount of time that sustaining milk yields requires. One woman stated that she was late to work waiting for her child to ‘latch’ (which by the way can take up to 30 minutes!!), and was afraid that she wouldn’t have the time at work to pump milk when her breasts were engorged. Lots of women spoke about feeling guilty for not being able to breastfeed, and the mantra that ‘breast is best’ made them feel like inadequate mothers. It seems that the age old dichotomy between being successful in the office and successful in the home is still very much alive and kicking. How can this still be the case in 2016?! Surely you can be a breastfeeding mum and be successful in the work place? Isn’t keeping your child alive and well nourished a legitimate excuse for being late to work? Breastfeeding shouldn’t be made to hinder the ability of women to be successful in their working lives.
As if mothers don’t have enough on their plate! Stigmatising them for doing what is probably THE most natural things that women are capable of doing is as ridiculous as banning people from eating phallic shaped foods because it may be offensive to others. We are in the 21st century and it is a real shame that people have to be reminded not only that breastfeeding is a crucial reason why human civilisation is able to exist on the planet right now, but also that women should have the choice to feed their baby wherever they please and in whatever capacity they deem fit. Talking about the reality of breastfeeding in the raw and uncensored way that it was presented in the documentary will get rid of the stupid stigma around breastfeeding and breasts in general.
Thanks to everyone who came along to the event and contributed ideas to the No Shame Campaign. They were much appreciated! If you didn’t make it, keep an eye out on our Facebook page for the dates and locations of the next events. Hope they will be as insightful as this one was.
P.s. here’s a link to the trailer of the film! http://www.breastmilkthemovie.com/trailer.html
Kara Weekes (BME representative) x