Breastmilk: Film Review

Everything you want to know about the subject and more.

Dana Ben-Ari's documentary explores the physical and emotional issues related to breastfeeding.

Being a childless male probably makes me less than qualified to review Dana Ben-Ari’s documentary about the trials and tribulations, both physical and emotional, involved in breastfeeding. But new and prospective parents -- especially, of course, mothers -- will find much to interest them in Breastmilk, which serves as a natural sequel to The Business of Being Born, the previous effort from executive producers Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein. Opening for an exclusive theatrical engagement at NYC’s IFC Center, the film, much like its titular subject, will more likely be consumed in private.

Profiling a gallery of new mothers, the film is perhaps most surprising for its refusing to moralize about the issue. Although the subjects are obviously determined to breastfeed their infants, there’s little proselytizing about the positive aspects of the increasingly popular practice versus the use of formula. There’s also barely a mention of the debate about the right to breastfeed in public.

Rather, it concentrates on the practical difficulties involved, from the inability of some mothers to produce milk in sufficient quantities to the difficulties some babies have in suckling on, or “latching onto,” their mother’s nipples. We learn about the phenomenon known as “tongue-tie,” a congenital condition afflicting the tongues of some babies that prevents them from getting a “good latch.”

The subjects -- of varying ethnicities, sexual orientations and socioeconomic backgrounds -- articulately describe the challenges involved, with doctors and various other experts weighing in as well. “We want to let him explore it on his own for a little bit,” explains one mother about her child’s failed attempts to latch onto her breast. “I don’t want to be filmed pumping,” another declares. “I feel like a cow…I sit here and moo.” But despite her reservations, she goes on to say, “I’m fascinated by the fact that I can make food.”

Not that the proceedings consist entirely of talking heads. The director includes extensive scenes of women using breast pumps, and one rhapsodically photographed sequence featuring close-ups of nipples squirting milk rivals any nature footage to be found on the National Geographic Channel.

At times the film gets too detailed and arcane for its own good, from one professor’s description of “biological feminism” to a reference to “lactation pornography” that makes one shudder. It’s safe to say that most viewers will be happy to hear that no examples of the latter are included.  

Opens May 7 (CAVU Pictures)

Production: Aleph Pictures

Director-producer: Dana Ben-Ari

Executive producers: Ricki Lake, Abby Epstein, Nikola Duravcevic, Lindsey Clennell

Director of photography: Jake Clennell

Editors: Molly Snyder-Fink, Hisayo Kushida

Not rated, 90 minutes

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