The Milky Way Movie: Breastfeeding Support on Film

Breastfeeding Support & Challenges: The Milky Way Movie

UPDATE: Another screening of the movie is happening in Calgary on October 6 2015! Find out more details and purchase your ticket here:

Earlier this month, the Calgary Breastfeeding Matters Group screened a documentary called The Milky Way Movie. There were a collection of breastfeeding businesses and organizations on hand before the screening and a great panel discussion that followed the movie.

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I was very impressed with this documentary. The last one I had seen on the topic left me saddened and unsure of how I could help the women with breastfeeding. The Milky Way left me excited to share with women that there are serious flaws in our systems and to not take the blame or feel shame if you did not breastfeed.

Conflicting advice abounds, leaving new moms bewildered and wondering if they are doing it “right,” and often wanting to opt out entirely. Countering nearly a century of medical procedures that  separated babies from their mothers and medical advice that informed women that their milk was not good enough, The Milky Way captures how mothers can access their inner knowledge and trust their own body’s wisdom, and why they should. Women’s stories, leading lactation professionals, archival footage, religious iconography, and formula advertisements, tell the story of how mothers relinquished authority to medical professionals, and succumbed to cultural pressure to forfeit their nourishing breasts in favor of a highly sexualized model." ~ The Milky Way

I found the movie inspiring. They talked about what other countries were doing, why it was working and how it could work in North America. There were discussions on root causes of why the number of women breastfeeding (in the US) was so low. Sadly, there is a lot of similarities with the US and Canada regarding breastfeeding rates. Granted we in Alberta (Alberta breastfeeding statistics) are not as low as the US, but there is much room for improvement.

The panel discussion after was so knowledgeable and covered many aspects of the population: mother, nurse, La Leche League (LLL) Leader, father, grandfather, lactation! Their thoughts on the film were aligned with many of my own as well as adding other great thoughts that my brain lacked the ability to think of on my own.

The sad part is only a handful of people got to see this great movie and experience the panel discussion. We have a big community here in Calgary, but how to bring everyone together? I've already contacted the filmmakers regarding obtaining a licenced copy to share with my Birth Boot Camp students. I want people to see this movie BEFORE baby comes along, before they experience the set backs set-up along the way so that they are prepared. Breastfeeding has become this difficult experience. Its tricky. And its not because of the parents not wanting to breastfeed.

There are many system failures in place. How can we remove them?

  1. Educate yourself before baby arrives. Go to LLL meetings, read books like The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and Breastfeeding Made Simple. Take a prenatal class like Birth Boot Camp that discusses breastfeeding and has great material (Breastfeeding: The Ultimate MRE DVD). Talk to moms that were successful with breastfeeding. Once baby does arrive, don't stop learning. Continue going to LLL meetings, reading resources and sharing your stories. Involve your partner before and after...they are a big part of breastfeeding even if they aren't physically supplying the milk.
  2. Write to your MLA! The MaternityCare of Alberta Network wrote an excellent report called Maternity Care Priorities in Alberta documenting the crisis in maternity care within Alberta in early November. Read the report and use their template letter to write your MLA. Tell them waiting 6-10 weeks to see a public lactation consultant does not work. Tell them low risk women need to be seeing care providers that specialize in low risk births and are trained in breastfeeding. Is your employer breastfeeding friendly? If you do return to work, is there somewhere clean and private for you to pump?
  3. Watch other women. This is similar to number 1, but really needed it's own section. How can we normalize breastfeeding if we don't see it? Before the invention of formula, women grew up watching other women breastfeed. We watched our mothers, sisters and aunts have babies. Once it was withdrawn from sight, we lost the experience and knowledge that comes with seeing. Support women that you do see nursing in public. Tell them how lovely they are. The woman a couple tables over may hear you and it may help her to realize its okay for her too. And if someone is out feeding their babe with a bottle, please don't be rude to them, you don't know their story.

We need to share our stories!

Here's a brief recap of my own personal experience. Both of my babies were born in Fort McMurray where there are 3 choices for birth: in hospital with a very small number of OBs, travel to Edmonton or Calgary a minimum of 1 month before the EDD for midwife care, or an unassisted home birth. Not great choices to say the least. I had a rough time with our first daughter. After a medicated birth and a terrible hospital experience, she was readmitted to the hospital on day 5 due to jaundice. She was having great difficulties eating and staying awake. The nurse in the ER took her and fed her a bottle of formula telling me that I was starving her. I was a failure as her mother by day 5 in my mind. They put her under the lights and I was told to supplement her with formula then to pump and feed her my milk through the bottle. I had a lot of milk yet I was told I could try breastfeeding her only every third feeding. I was so disappointed in myself but I didn't see how giving her formula would be helpful. If I was pumping, she'd be feeding from the same bottle, so she should be able to drink it just as easily right? Her nurse was wonderful and encouraged me to not feed formula but to breastfeed and bottle feed the breast milk I pumped. I pumped while she slept in her warm, blue bed as her numbers decreased throughout the night. After 18 hours, her bilirubin level was normal and we were released. I told the doctor what we had done and she was impressed.

Our troubles weren't over as I seemed to have an abundant supply and there was not great access to help. I used a nipple shield for several weeks and eventually she started to feed without it. She was a pro by 3 months and I have no idea what I would have done if breastfeeding hadn't work out for us. I struggled with PPD and was diagnosed around 6 months with several forms of treatment given. We chose not to cosleep for 6 months, thinking that's not what everyone else is doing. It was awful, so many nights up with a crying baby until we brought her into our bed and we could finally all sleep. I chose to stop breastfeeding at 16 months as I felt this immense pressure that she didn't need it and was too old. We were both brokenhearted for many months and I still regret it.

We do what we know and can only make changes once we know more. With knowledge comes the power to do better!

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Cut to baby number 2. I had a wonderful doula and took classes from the local doula association. We had a simple and quick unmedicated birth with only a few hours in the hospital. We went home to the comfort of our bed, coslept from the start and I wore her for many hours everyday. She had breastfed within 30 minutes of her birth and we got to enjoy her company for an hour uninterrupted after the placenta was birthed. We breastfed until 24 months when I chose to stop as I needed a different medication that was not safe for breastfeeding. It was a hard choice but one I made willingly and consciously with my family doctor. Her story is so simple in comparison to her sister's story.

Birthing Magazine is an Alberta magazine that is is packed with birth stories, research articles, news and events, resource information and much more. The Winter 2015 edition has a lovely story in it this month about one woman's challenges with her milk and her struggle to love herself and her milk. Pick up a copy, read it and then share with a friend!

What was your breastfeeding experience? Positive? Negative? Sharing our stories, especially our positive ones can help those feeling left without support. Have you written your letter to your MLA? Join MCAN on Facebook or MCAN on Twitter if you haven't already to see how you can be involved!

November 27, 2014 by Laurie McGowan
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