Breastmilk, the Movie: What Ricki Lake Hopes You’ll Take Away

08/12/2014 at 11:00 AM ET

Ricki Lake
Rich Polk/Getty

Breasts on display in pop culture: socially acceptable.

Breasts used to nurse babies in public: controversial.

Why the divide? Ricki Lake, executive producer of the new documentary Breastmilk, has some thoughts on the matter.

“There are so many forces in our culture that make breastfeeding a huge challenge — not the least of which is a bizarre public anxiety around exposed breasts!” Lake, who also co-produced 2008’s The Business of Being Born, tells PEOPLE.

Timed with National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, the movie is newly available on iTunes and Lake believes it will “definitely make waves with the general public, simply due the fact that breastfeeding has become such a lightening rod topic.”

Indeed, in the last few months alone, one mom made national news for nursing at her college graduation, another took on Instagram for censoring breastfeeding photos, and new mom Olivia Wilde joined the ranks of celebrities who’ve publicly posed while nursing their babies.

But many women still feel uncomfortable nursing outside the home. In an independent poll of more than 1,000 mothers conducted by Bravado, only 17 percent responded that they are extremely comfortable breastfeeding in public. One-third of the women said they are somewhat to extremely uncomfortable breastfeeding in public, and nearly 20 percent had never breastfed in public.

Still, Breastmilk, says Lake, is not “a pro-breastfeeding manifesto, but more of a keenly-observed examination of the obstacles so many mothers face when attempting to nurse their babies.”

“After our theatrical screenings there were heated conversations among the audience about what the film was or wasn’t saying. People want a clear message that is easily digested and the beauty of this film is that it shows the messy reality of the situation without pushing an agenda.”

Still, the imagery in the film and its promotional materials may be pushing the envelope when it comes to the general public’s comfort level. The movie poster, for example, is widely considered NSFW (not safe for work), and the movie features several tight shots of breasts dripping and spraying milk. But the intent, says Lake, is to educate and inspire, not to shock.

Breastmilk movie poster
Courtesy Breastmilk

“The filmmaker, Dana Ben-Ari, chose to use some very graphic and playful images of lactating breasts,” says Lake. “To me, those shots feel humorous and celebratory from a feminist perspective. We hope that brings positive attention to the film and incites awe and wonder at the capabilities of the female body!”

But considering that #normalizebreastfeeding is a trending topic on social media (“It is rather crazy that breastfeeding is something that needs to be ‘normalized,'” says Lake), our society may have a ways to go before a film like this one isn’t debated.

“My hope is that the film gives the world a deeper and more compassionate insight into the challenges and joys of breastfeeding,” says Lake.

“The focus of this film is on new parents and their intimate experiences. I think both nursing and formula-feeding mothers will whole-heartedly relate to the film and society will gain a new appreciation for the intricacies around the lactating breast.”

– Rennie Dyball

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Showing 33 comments

boohoobytch on

um, really?

ENJCE on

I just don’t get how this documentary actually accomplishes anything, other than stir up emotions. How does “playful” imagery help? There are so many better spins on this topic that would actually educate the public, such as cultural comparisons on nursing. Only those who are interested in the actually anatomy are going to watch this.

Guest on

I am certainly not a prude, and do believe women should be allowed to breastfeed when they need to (although I also think it can be done with discretion). However, I do not see the need to see pictures or a movie of women’s lactating breasts squirting or dripping milk. I don’t understand why this would help make breastfeeding more acceptable or why anyone would find it entertaining. Just my opinion…

Andrea on

That picture made me throw up in my mouth a little bit. As a former breastfeeding mom myself, is that really necessary??.. We are absolutely idolizing the fact that women breastfeed. This is not a new phenomenon. So, you use your boobs to feed your baby. Welcome to motherhood.

Emmaleigh on

I personally have a hard time having any sympathy for breastfeeding moms because of the shaming they do to the moms that were/are unable to breastfeed or choose to formula feed.

Jsd079 on

I have breastfed 4 children and not once did I feel put down for doing so in public, when needed. I just had no desire to show my breasts to the other parents at the park, so I covered up, just like the row of other moms next to me. There’s a small group of women who want to make an issue out of something when there is no issue. It’s just breast feeding. It’s been going on since Eve.

Susan on

Anything to gain attention or make a buck.

Selena on

I know this will generate some hate here, but why is it always the dumpy women who are the biggest promoters of subjecting people to watch them breastfeed?

Susan on

Ricky Lake must be trying to resurrect her defunct career.

diana on

Maybe it’s just me but I absolutely do not understand in what way breastfeeding is a challenge in today’s society. It wasn’t any sort of a challenge over 30 years ago when I breastfed my boys. It is completely easy and comfortable to throw a cloth over your shoulder, duck the baby underneath and breastfeed anywhere. Usually no one notices, if they do notice, there is nothing unusual to see. I think the only challenge is that some women believe they should be able to fully expose their breast in public and have no one notice or be offended. That is an issue entirely different from breastfeeding – it’s about an exposed breast, not feeding a baby.

Anonymous on

Uhh… what

Lala on

Uhh… why on earth did they choose that photo, for the movie poster? If I saw this poster, my first thought would be that it belongs in some creepy fetish movie.
I am all for normalizing breast feeding (though considering 9 out of 10 oh my friends nurse their babies, I don’t see what needs to be normalized), but I feel like having your boob hang out in public, is a bit much. I exclusively nursed one of my children, and exclusively bottle fed the other. So I’m on both sides of the spectrum (and yes, both my children are completely healthy, reached milestones early, and I have an amazing bond with both of them). You can, and I have, nurse without using a blanket or cover, and still not expose your breast to the world. It’s called lifting your shirt, while still keeping most your breast covered, so nobody needs to be gawking at you, and baby still has fresh air to breathe, and can see what’s going on. I have seen too many creepy men, and teenage boys, gawk at exposed breasts, and they don’t seem to care in the slightest, that there’s a baby attached to it. People are naive, if they think those people aren’t watching, getting off on what their doing.

Susan on

I nursed all four of our kids. I at times had to pump milk while at work, I also had to nurse at parks, restaurants, etc. I never felt compelled to “let the world” see or know what I was doing. I wasn’t ashamed, I simply felt it was no one else’s business or concern. I did however have a few people stop and give a word or two of encouragement when they figured out what was going on under a light blanket I used to cover up. I don’t understand how in 10 or so years since then, this has become somewhat of a competition or “spectator sport”. I’m guessing most of these women are starved in one way or another for attention or validation. They are pathetic, and set women back. They should be ashamed of themselves for that.

angela on

I went to a viewing of this moving last week — it was fantastic. I encourage everyone to go see it. It doesn’t throw breastfeeding in your face, it shows a real struggle in America with breastfeeding, go see it before you judge!

Susan on

Angela, where in the US do you find nursing your child a “struggle”? I have three children, nursed then all until they were about 9 months old, and I work full time. I had a job before where there was no “nursing room” available, so they allowed me to have a makeshift place to do it. In my new place of employment, they do have a designated room, as do a lot of workplaces in the US. I also nursed them when we were on vacations, in restaurants, parks, etc, however, I felt no need to be an exhibitionist, so I was discreet. Please tell me where this is a “struggle”? I’ve heard people struggle with health issues, poverty, etc., but using the word struggle and associating it with breastfeeding is almost embarrassing.

Gwen on

I had a friend who was chastised IN CHURCH for breastfeeding her baby with a cover on. She was told to go into the back room where no one could see. If you’ve never had people discourage you from breastfeeding, then great. But there are lots of women who have. I didn’t breastfeed my first baby because of nurses in the hospital discouraging it. Yes, nurses. I was petrified of someone seeing an inch of my breast for fear I would offend. I got over that fear with my second and I could not feed her under a cover. We had big time latch problems and by the time those resolved, she would rip a blanket or cover off. I still made sure no one saw my nipples. But I got more than a few dirty looks, even from a restaurant manager. Women have been told recently to stop feeding their babies in places such as Victoria Secret, Target, on Airplanes. The struggle is real.

Kat on

Yeah, I’m guessing this is going to be shaming bottlefeeding mothers the way “The Business of Being Born” made anyone who didn’t have an unmedicated home birth feel like an unfit mother.

Amy on

This makes me wish I were still breastfeeding. Such a wonderful bonding time. The most work I’ve ever had to do. The best decision I ever made. For my family.

And as for the spraying milk “playful” imagery, it seriously happens. And most often by accident. I remember I heard a baby crying when I was out and my milk came down. I took my baby to breast as fast as I could and he got a little accidental spray in the face. It is nature and anatomy and it can be mysterious and hilarious all at once.

jessica on

Emmaleigh, that is such a general, and false accusation! Not all breast feeding moms shame formula feeding moms.

Katie on

Sounds like much ado about nothing. I recently went back to work after having my second child. I take two breaks in my schedule daily to pump. No one is “weird” about it. I just don’t understand the big deal. I think Ricki Lake is trying to cash in, and I think a lot of these women, (and I know I’ll get hate mail for this), either have too much time on their hands, or are very, very insecure. If someone confronts you, tell them politely to mind their own business. If you take the percent of women who are confronted while nursing in public versus the total number of women who are nursing, the number is minuscule. Time to move on. There are way bigger, more important issues in the world than someone telling you they don’t approve of you nursing in public.

Katie on

Gwen, you seriously need to start living your own life and making your own decisions. Don’t blame not nursing on some lame nurse in the hospital. You could have reported him or her, and/or asked for another nurse. And if you have a “friend” who was “chastised” in Church, please try to keep it in perspective. She was one of about a million or more women in the US who is nursing a baby throughout the country. The vast, vast majority of women are able to nurse discreetly anywhere, only most people around them aren’t aware they’re even doing it. And honestly, most people don’t really care.

Angie on

Hum didn’t know Ricki Lake’s career has changed from a talk show host to a movie producer.

Michelle on

I hope you women realize that just because you haven’t experienced any public scrutiny while breast feeding doesn’t mean other women don’t all the time. I have 4 kids and cannot recall facing any issues when having to nurse them in public. Yet I frequently see women in public get looks of disgust and told to move elsewhere when breast feeding discretely. Just last week while in a restaurant restroom I ran into a women who was forced to nurse in a stall because the restaurant said others were disturbed. I saw her nursing prior to her relocating to the bathroom and not an inch of her breast was exposed. This is not about being an exhibitionist. If that’s all you’re getting out of this, you’ve missed the point by a long shot.

Paula on

Its alright to breastfeeding in public as long as it is discreet and don’t display it!

goodie on

This movie has the right message!
This is not a slam against those that don’t breastfeed andthis is not to expose breasts to make others feel uncomfortable. This is about breastfeeding………that’s all.
I saw a recent picture that showed a lady is a grungy bathroom sitting on the toilet trying to feed her baby and it’s capped, “table for 2?” Would you eat here, then why would you let this child eat here.
I thought it was brillant.

Lis on

Okay, I am getting really sick of the whole “normalize breastfeeding” campaign. Breasts were given to women to nourish our children. Yes. But guess what else? The are also sexual objects to men. They are BOTH. Not one or the other, BOTH. And that’s OKAY!!! They are a private part to a woman’s body and I am pretty certain that women could walk around topless for years and men would STILL be turned on!! It’s in their DNA. Breastfeeding is beautiful and natural and wonderful, but it can be done discreetly and tastefully (no pun intended!). I have no problem with a mother breastfeeding in public! …Unless she is exposing herself.

Also, I breastfed/breastfeed my kids. I do believe it’s best, but I don’t feel the need to flaunt my boobs as some sort of “badge of honor”…

Karen on

I breastfed my four children. I did not and do not critize someone who can not or does not want to breastfeed. As long as you are nuturing your child whether with breast milk or formula, that is the most important thing.

Just Me on

I wish that Ricki Lake, and other so-called ‘celebrity experts’ would just up already. They don’t know anymore about what they’re spouting off about then anyone else does. There is no such thing as a parenting ‘expert’. Ricki Lake’s last movie was made for the same reasons as this one… to stir up controversy and keep her quickly fading light shining. She’s not going to add anything to the ‘argument’ that hasn’t been said a million times already. Ricki Lake, Jenny McCarthy, Miyam Bialik, Alicia Silverstone… the list goes on… the one thing they all have in common is the fact that they all THINK their experts and think they’re somehow qualified to dish out parenting advice when in reality most of them have done nothing more then stir the pot… some of them have actually done more damage then good spitting out their uneducated, misinformation and sometimes, downright ridiculous ‘advice’.

Nolake on

Someone shove a nipple in her mouth to shut her up!

Leah on

@Emmaleigh
I’m right there with you. I was unable to breastfeed my son because I was on serious medication that would pass through my breast milk to him. Doctors orders not mine. The way some of the nurses and breastfeeding mothers treated me before they knew my condition was heinous. I have absolutely no sympathy for these women!

Zelda on

While I fully support BFing (in public, too!) and I breastfed my own son for a year, this woman’s previous documentary The Business of Being Born and her obsession with natural childbirth has taken lives. If you search Hurt by Homebirth you’ll read stories of women who watched The Business of Being Born and attempted natural birth at home with disastrous results. I don’t trust her and she scares me.

Anonymous on

Glad the documentary film has some educational value.

sgtmian on

lis, female breasts are no more sexual than men’s. honestly, who gives a shit what men find to be a turn on? there are men who get erections for feet and hair, should we cover those things too? how about we all start wearing burkas? since men just can’t control their desires, boo hoo. female breasts exist to feed young, that is their only real purpose. the fact that they are erogenous zones means nothing. so are men’s nipples, so are necks and lips and thighs and earlobes and the backs of knees. there should be nothing special or shameful about breasts being exposed, regardless if they are feeding babies or not, but ESPECIALLY when they are doing what they are there for.

there are women being called sluts and whores for feeding their babies in the privacy of their own cars, so obviously some people have serious issues and need to be educated.

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