The Milky Way: Not Just Another Breastfeeding Documentary
August is National Breastfeeding Month. I am very proud that Jennifer Davidson asked me to be one of the doctors in her film. In America, the pervasive effect of formula industry money is obvious: Every pediatrician is exposed to hundreds of pages of advertisements for infant formula and virtually every single major pediatric conference has their sponsorship. It's amazing that natural feeding of babies has survived this corruption.
We also are one of only four nations on the planet not to support new families with paid parental leave.
The Milky Way documentary is a wake-up call for our society. As Food, Inc. pulled back the curtain on the sale and distribution of food in America, The Milky Way is an exposé of the current state of breastfeeding and the formula industry in the U.S. The film follows Jennifer Davidson, a lactation consultant, as she investigates why our breastfeeding rates are among the lowest in the world, and what other countries are doing to nurture their mothers, babies and families. Throughout, we hear from many mothers -- some well-known celebrities -- about their experiences and viewpoints. Many of these mothers are Ms. Davidson's grateful clients.
This film emphasizes empowerment and competence -- not just competence of mothers, but also that of babies. There is a recurring theme of "trust yourself, trust your body, trust your baby." The Milky Way isn't just a cheerleader for breastfeeding advocates; it is a vehicle for maternal empowerment and an indictment of the medical industry's intrusion into birth and breastfeeding. Keeping mother and baby together, it posits, will not only improve the breastfeeding relationship, but also improve the overall health of mothers and babies. In a Berlin hospital, where the NICU babies stay with the mothers nearly around the clock, some preemies are being discharged at three pounds, exclusively breastfeeding and thriving.
The catch is this: no matter how much we promote, support and encourage breastfeeding, the lack of paid leave in the U.S. is a huge blow that contributes heavily to our low breastfeeding rates. It takes at least six to eight weeks to establish a solid breastfeeding relationship; as long as women are forced back to work a month after giving birth, mothers will continue to struggle. The film shows us a startling fact -- the U.S. is one of only three countries in the entire world that has no national paid leave program. We see thriving families in Sweden, where formula is almost impossible to find and parents have 18 months of combined paid leave. It is a strong argument for the FAMILY Act, paid leave legislation that is in Congress now.
The film also tackles two more controversial subjects: formula marketing and co-sleeping/bed-sharing Ms. Davidson has worked in practice for many years; I am pediatrician in private and the first male doctor to be an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. The money that physicians receive from formula companies, and the long-term health impact of formula on our children, including skyrocketing obesity leading to early-onset Type 2 diabetes is a stain on the American Academy of Pediatrics. The world's expert on infant sleep and bed-sharing, Dr. James McKenna, states in the film: "It is simply untrue that co-sleeping is inherently dangerous. If that were true, none of us would be here today." Co-sleeping benefits both mother and baby; the child can nurse on demand, and the mother doesn't miss important feeding cues.
The international response to the film has led to the creation of a new nonprofit, The Milky Way Foundation (www.milkywayfoundation.org.) The Foundation's programs include: improving workplace lactation practices, creating family-friendly NICUs, advocating for paid family leave, celebrating breastfeeding art, and helping mothers find donated breast milk.
The Milky Way is available online in 36 countries and multiple languages. See all purchase and rental options at milkywaymovie.com.