Note: I am not a mother (yet, gods willing), and so have not had any personal experience trying to breastfeed. I came into this documentary curious, and also trying to gain some knowledge about what I might face.
Recently I watched a documentary on iView called Is Breast Best? Cherry Healey Investigates. Cherry Healey is a woman who created a birth documentary while she was pregnant. After her child was born, Cherry tried breastfeeding but suffered mastitis and infection, and so gave up and turned to bottle feeding. This documentary explores the various reasons women quit or don’t start breastfeeding, as well as her own guilt at bottle-feeding her child.
One of the first things the documentary discusses are the various issues that can occur when breastfeeding. Cherry talks to new mum Emma, who is determined to breastfeed but is having trouble. She talks about how her nipples are cracked and sore, and about how painful feeding is for her. Some shots of the cam inside her house show Emma exhausted and close to tears while her baby wakes up hungry and struggles to latch. Cherry comments how strong she finds Emma, and how she would have given up.
There is a happy ending, though. Emma connects with a breastfeeding support group, and is given some help and advice. A lactation consultant shows her a proper latching technique, and after a few tries Emma has renewed confidence, and breastfeeding doesn’t hurt her as much. Hopefully she’ll continue to get the support she needs and will breastfeed for as long as she wants to.
One of the groups of women that Cherry talks to is a support group for young mums and pregnant teens. What’s interesting about this group is that most of them bottle feed, or plan to bottle feed. Cherry questions the women involved and tries to understand why this might be.
“If you’re a teen mum, and then you get your boob out… even though it’s for the baby, if you get your boob out you automatically a slag.” one woman said, to murmurs of agreement from those in the room. It really saddens me, but the truth is that teen mums face a whole lot of discrimination. Add to that the discrimination that people face for breastfeeding and you have a great big pile of shit to deal with.
Another factor that was talked about was the lack of visibility of breastfeeding. One of the mums said “I always see older mums breastfeeding, so it’s something older mums do. Teen mums therefore don’t, teen mums bottle feed.” When questioned, she said that if celebrities were breastfeeding more often, if breastfeeding was more commonly shown, then she probably wouldn’t feel that way.
It really strikes me that we need more positiv portrayals of breastfeeding. Not just in the media, but everywhere. The symbol commonly used to denote infant is a bottle; what does that tell you about breastfeeding acceptance?
Something that really pleased me about the documentary was the number of success stories that were shown and talked about. I’ve already mentioned Emma at the beginning of this review, and how she got help from a support group. Cherry also talks to many mums who have breastfed successfully, including one who had planned to bottle feed but breastfed for 11 months!
She speaks to many women who described their breastfeeding experiences. The different ways of feeding were quite interesting; one of the women was still breastfeeding at five years, another was just getting back to work after 6 months and was expressing breast milk for her baby. She also met with a group of Lactivists who were encouraging businesses to put up “Breastfeeding Welcome” stickers. It was a real encouragement to me as someone who hopes to breastfeed one day.
Benefits of Breastmilk
Cherry admitted that she felt the need to justify her choice to bottle feed because of the guilt she felt around it. However the documentary never shies away from the importance of breastmilk in child development. Although some time was given to the article I Formula-Fed. So What? (the author was interviewed) a much larger percentage of time was spent talking about the benefits of breastfeeding. Health benefits, bonding benefits, the convenience of breastmilk… it was spoken about by many different people through the course of the documentary. It was stressed again and again and again how good breastmilk is.
Breastfeeding In Public
Just before I finish, I want to talk about a small segment in the documentary that really struck me. Emma would go into the bathrooms to feed her child because she was too scared to breastfeed in public. Cherry made an effort to support her in breastfeeding in public, and accompanied her to her first attempt as moral support. This was an incredibly uplifting scene. Having this scene as well as showingt he Lactivists who were asking businesses to visibly support breastfeeding, and the feeling I got was that breastfeeding is something that should happen in public.
I really enjoyed this documentary and would certainly recommend it to my friends. I would be interested in hearing from someone who has had experience breastfeeding or bottle feeding, and how they feel about the doco.