THE BLOG
11/15/2013 10:30 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

From Babes to Boobs

After the screenings of our 2008 documentary The Business of Being Born, there would invariably be one or two questions from the audience about related topics such as "did either of you circumcise your boys?" and "what are your views on co-sleeping?" We would patiently explain that we had just spent three years making a film about childbirth so we'd like to focus the conversation accordingly. We'd soften our refusal to weigh in on these hot-button issues by suggesting that perhaps some other filmmakers might tackle those subjects.

But one of the more controversial comments that we consistently heard pertained to an "epilogue" scene toward the end of the film. In that scene, Abby Epstein is feeding her 8-month-old son Matteo with a bottle while lamenting the fact that breastfeeding did not go very well for them due to Matteo's birth complications and extended stay in the hospital's NICU. Many women said they were "disappointed" by the bottle-feeding scene and deemed Abby's remarks about her struggle to breastfeed as the cliché phrases of a mother who had just lacked the proper support or not tried hard enough. We were a bit shocked that the brief presence of this bottle onscreen evoked such passionate responses, but it opened our eyes to a new arena of judgment and shame for mothers... breast milk.

Unlike the birth process, which happens quickly and is hidden from public view, decisions around breastfeeding follow mothers for several years and become unavoidably public. Somehow breast milk has become a loaded political issue with articles popping up weekly in The New York Times about how feminism, race and class affect breastfeeding rates and spreadsheets detailing the IQ points your child will gain with each month of extended breastfeeding. The UK government is offering shopping vouchers for mothers who nurse for six months. Even Obamacare has taken a stance, guaranteeing coverage for lactation consultants and pump rentals.

We've read more than 100 emails begging us to make our next documentary about breastfeeding. Usually, the writer includes articles and statistics and implores us to create a subversive documentary in the spirit of The Business of Being Born that reveals a conspiracy around breastfeeding with formula companies preying on unsuspecting new mothers. Although we realized that there was definitely a need for a modern film about breastfeeding, the impulse to make this type of film just wasn't there for us. Like many successful documentaries, The Business of Being Born had been sparked by personal experience, not political motivation.

Earlier this year, Elan McAllister, the wonderful Executive Director of Choices in Childbirth, mentioned that she had seen a rough cut of a new documentary called Breastmilk and had been duly impressed. We screened the film and met with first time filmmaker Dana Ben-Ari, whose unflinching camera followed a diverse group of New York City mothers from pregnancy through the first year of their child's life. The intimate portraits in the film fearlessly illustrate why 85 percent of American women are breastfeeding their children at birth, yet three months later two-thirds of those women have stopped completely.

We were drawn to Breastmilk because it never mentions breastfeeding statistics, formula companies, conspiracies or IQ points. It's refreshingly free of advocacy and hysteria, instead focusing on the quotidian challenges faced by these mothers and fathers as they consider the decision of whether to breastfeed and what to anticipate. The film relies heavily on vérité with colorful experts chiming in on angles like biological feminism and the sexuality of the lactating breast. It's a European style documentary, elegantly filmed and quietly observed -- with a surprising amount of humor.

At a recent preview screening of Breastmilk that we hosted at Los Angeles' Sanctuary Birth Center, the film provoked a certain tension among professional lactation consultants who wanted it to have "more success stories" and mothers who appreciated that it showed the "reality of how challenging breastfeeding can be." There was an anxiety among the lactation consultants that the film didn't provide enough answers or explain away all the difficulties women were having. But overall, the discussion and debate gave away to universal support of the movie. One lactation consultant who worked in a large, public hospital said the film completely captured the frustration of her experience. "Every day, it's like we are trying to bail out a ship with a teacup," she said.

Socially and politically, breastfeeding seems to be having a big moment in this country.

It's ironic that so many other cultures just don't seem to understand why Americans are so conflicted about breastfeeding. Midwife Ina May Gaskin talks about the U.S. having "nipple-phobia" and Lena Dunham recently posted a censored photo of her friend breastfeeding saying "...the nipple is dope. Instagram, get down with the nipple." Salma Hayek caused a global uproar when she spontaneously breastfed a malnourished baby on a tour of Sierra Leone. How are we to change policy and create a social system to support breastfeeding with all this prudish absurdity about nipples and side-boob?

Seriously, we challenge you to visit any other country in the world where they are selling things called "hooter hiders" for discreet public breastfeeding. We've created a market around hiding the lactating breast -- not to mention all those poor babies having to nurse under a blanket where they can't look into their mother's eyes. What message are we sending to our children about human connection?

To this day, making The Business of Being Born is the proudest accomplishment of our professional lives. It's incredible to see how much impact the film continues to have. Just this week Evan Rachel Wood was on Live with Kelly and Michael talking about how BOBB informed her birth decisions... amazing. We are thrilled to serve as executive producers of Breastmilk and continue the conversation around supporting women's choices during childbirth and beyond. There is still too much pressure on women to navigate this territory alone and succeed at their own cost.

We hope you will join us at the DOC NYC screening of Breastmilk this weekend and help us figure out how best to support mothers and the choices they make around breastfeeding.