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Milk Breastfeeding Documentary

November 2, 2015

Just got home from the screening of the new documentary about breastfeeding entitled Milk.


In addition to the overall coolness of having the film director skype in to talk about the film, and meeting up with lots of folks in Regina’s breastfeeding and birthing community, I also learned some new stuff about breastfeeding.


Here’s what stands out…

1. When a natural disaster strikes, sending in formula with the relief effort can actually have a negative effect of the health of that region’s babies. How?   Well often the formula is given for free to moms who are breastfeeding their babies. These mothers take the gifted formula and use it. However after about 2-4 months, the relief efforts diminish and no more free formula is given out. At this point, these mothers have lost their own milk supply, and are now dependent of the formula, which is of course much more costly than the free breastmilk that their bodies were making. When these natural disasters happen in impoverished areas, the cost of the formula become unsustainable.   These mothers then resort to water and sugar, or water and rice milk, or coffee whitener, leading to malnourished babies. In addition, especially in the wake of a natural disaster, the water supply is often compromised, and access to the tools necessary for boiling water, and sterilizing bottles is patchy. So these babies are also at greater risk for water-born illnesses. All this adds up to much sicker babies. Instead we should be focus on sending moms the food they need, so they can continue to make milk.   And when you hear about how awesome it is that company or aid agency sent formula following a natural disaster, so it’s time to think again.


2. Considering that the film was made by a Canadian filmmaker, I assumed that the documentary who tell the story of breastfeeding in Canada.   So I was surprised to see over 11 different countries from across the globe represented. And then I was doubly surprised to see how universal some of the challenges of breastfeeding are. Some of those universal challenges are how much we have disrupted the natural processes of birth.   I already knew how much birth influences breastfeeding (there are multiple books, studies and loads of research of that topic).   Essentially the more we intervene during birth, the more likely we’ll create issues with breastfeeding.   What I didn’t appreciate is how across the globe we are intervening in the natural birth process, with implication for the breastfeeding relationship after. Another universal challenge seems to be around the issue of support. In some areas it’s a lack of support from extended family, in others it’s a general lack of support from the society. In some countries, like the US where moms return back to work after 6 weeks, it can be a lack of support from their employers.   In Canada, a number of women interviewed mentioned the lack of support when issues or problems arise. So although it shows up in different ways in different cultures, a lack of support appears to be a key challenge facing breastfeeding moms no matter where they live.


3.  Another universal challenge is the difficulty of providing human milk for babies when their own mothers are not able to do this. Human milk banks were more common in the 80’s than they are today. That shocked me!   I thought we would have been moving forward, not backwards. So how did that happen? Well back in the 70’s when we started to realize the health benefits of breastmilk, milk banks came into existence.  These milk banks allowed women with a surplus supply to donate that milk to babies who needed it. When the AIDS epidemic occurred, the fear of AIDS transmission basically shut down most of North American’s milk banks.  The film told the story of a Brazilian milk bank that fought to remain open by finding a way to pasteurize breastmilk to the point where the AIDS virus, if present, was destroyed and the milk made safe.   In this area of Brazil the local fire department, when not fighting fires, makes housecalls to pick up breastmilk from moms who are able to pump extra milk for donation. Can you imagine the increase in breastmilk donations if there was a service in your community that would come and pick it up?  And if you are wondering, yes the pasteurization process does destroy some of the qualities in the milk, but even pasteurized human milk is still loads more nutritious and beneficial as compared to any formula.

All and all a great night and  an insightful documentary.   Here’s the trailer.   And if it speaks to you, you might like to consider hosting a screening.   (The local screening I attended was a fundraiser for our local milk bank. Truly a win-win situation).



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