Colleen is nine months pregnant and glowing. She cradles her stomach. Then the conversation turns to mothers who feed their babies formula, and Colleen sours: “It’s not something I would do.”
Soon afterward, the camera finds her in a hospital bed, holding her wrinkled, wailing, hungry newborn, Matteo. The nurse suggests that she help him latch onto the nipple and suck, but Colleen keeps insisting, “We’re hoping he’ll find it himself.” Matteo does, after a while, but his poor attachment and her minimal milk production send his parents traversing Manhattan in taxis for months, visiting doctors, in search of an answer that isn’t “Use formula.” They never find one.
Colleen and her husband are just two of the many new parents featured in the documentary Breastmilk, all of whom face breastfeeding challenges.
Work, school, privacy, poverty, gender roles — while children are nourished by breast milk, it appears to feed their parents’ anxieties more than anything.
Although director Dana Ben-Ari is a first-time filmmaker, she expertly assembles a truly diverse sampling of surprisingly eloquent new parents from across New York City, all of whom are trying to do right by their children.
By coupling long interviews with lush camerawork that treats human breastfeeding with the fascination and wonder of an Animal Planet special, Ben-Ari elegantly conveys the crippling social pressures that arise when a woman suggests that she might be allowed agency over her own body and that of her child, without adding any words of her own.