Celebrity mamas like Minnie Driver and Alanis Morissette have banded together in a new exposé documentary about breastfeeding. The film (called "The Milky Way") explores the reasons behind America's low breastfeeding rates. It also sheds light on the critically important role that skin-to-skin contact plays in bonding and overall infant health.
"Regardless of whether a mother has a bilateral mastectomy and has no breasts, that baby still belongs on her, with her, and in her arms for the first few months," says co-producer Chantal Molnar, RN, IBCLC, a registered nurse and board-certified lactation specialist. "Close contact is very important because there is so much physiology that is affected by a baby being close to his or her mother, as well as the father."
In the United States, it isn't uncommon for newborns to be separated from their mothers after birth. Molnar adds that this is especially true in NICUs.
"The program for breastfeeding is instilled in the baby, and you have to put that baby on the mother and leave it there for a couple of hours for this program to ignite," says Molnar, emphasizing that separation naturally disrupts this process. "So now it becomes a learning experience where you have to teach the baby to nurse, and you have to teach the mother."
Skin-to-skin contact aside, "The Milky Way" also explores the cultural stigmas attached to breastfeeding. Despite the fact that it's legal in nearly all 50 states to breastfeed in public, many nursing moms have experienced shaming and even harassment over publicly feeding their infants. The documentary is aiming to reframe the way we view nursing mothers.
"It's so bizarre because in this culture, you sexualize breasts, and that's ok," actress Rachel Luttrell says in the film. "But if you're actually doing what they're meant to do, then somehow it's wrong."
"The Milky Way" also recognizes the lack of paid maternity leave in the U.S. as a major hurdle for breastfeeding mothers. Don't believe it? According to recent reports, the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world without paid maternity leave.
"It's really not easy to continue breastfeeding and working at the same time," says Molnar, adding that she's worked with many new moms who are hesitant to even begin breastfeeding for exactly this reason. "We have a huge dropoff [in breastfeeding rates] at three months."
According to Molnar, only about 15 percent of mothers in the U.S. are exclusively breastfeeding after six months.
Overall, "The Milky Way" is a powerful documentary that nudges us to make a cultural shift with regard to how we view breastfeeding. It also takes jabs at the major formula companies for marketing so aggressively to new moms. But Molnar says that what the film is really about is empowering women to trust their bodies when it comes to mothering.