Noemi Weis has received numerous awards for her documentary films, but she never expected her latest effort would become a teaching tool that’s been used to change lives.
As it turns out, her documentary Milk — which examines global perspectives on breast-feeding — has accomplished just that.
“It’s amazing to me that in 2016 we are still discussing about whether a woman is breast-feeding and also if a women is breast-feeding in public,” Weis said. “Women are discriminated against on a constant basis around this. We need to be even more vocal, talk more about it, that’s how we’re going to make the changes we need.”
To date, Weis has rolled out more than 200 screenings of Milk, which have then been followed by panel discussions around the issue of breast-feeding.
Her latest will come in the Forest City on Tuesday, Nov. 29, at the Wolf Performance Hall.
Sponsored by the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU), the screening of Milk will also feature a discussion that will include a family doctor, a dula (a non-medical person who assists before, during, and/or after childbirth), public health officials and the director of INFACT Canada, a national non-governmental organization that works to protect infant and young child health.
Laura Dueck, a public health nurse and MLHU’s lead in its Baby Friendly Initiative, said the screening of Milk represents an important opportunity.
“It’s quite interesting. We’re trying to realign our community, Ontario, Canada, North America, to see breast-feeding as that biological norm,” Dueck said. “We still need to keep the conversation going to help people understand why breast-feeding is important and not just see it as a conveyance factor or a lifestyle choice. Families need to get really good information to make a good decision.”
Dueck said the statistics in London and Middlesex County show the initiation rate — those women who start breast-feeding after birth — is “well over” 90 percent.
However, the challenges seem to come after that, as by six months those numbers drop to 52 percent and at one year it plummets to 17 percent.
The current recommendation, Dueck said, is exclusive breast-feeding to six months and continue breast feeding up to two years and beyond.
“When you look at the numbers, clearly something happens in those months after birth that create challenge,” she said. “I think it’s an opportunity for us to advocate, really get that conversation out there and push beyond just saying breast-feeding is important. The film, in its entirety, really raises quite a wide range of issues when it comes to infant feeding.”
It seems MLHU certainly isn’t the only healthcare organization to recognize Milk as an effective tool for leading discussions around breast-feeding.
Weis points to global organizations like UNICEF, the World Health Organization and Save the Children, along with numerous local agencies, which been using the film to spotlight the issue of child feeding.
The film, Weis said, provides “empirical research” for champions of breast-feeding and it does so through the stories of women from around the world.
She actually travelled to 35 cities in 11 countries to bring those stories to light.
One of the things Weis said she is most proud of is the film’s ability to raise questions and begin discussions regardless of the audience’s socio-economic background, language or culture.
“I don’t know if we got to this place or it existed all along. I have two children who are older now, but it happened to me a couple decades ago. I never talked about it,” she said. “I think what’s happening now is women have access to the Internet, they are talking to each other, there is more empowerment, they feel free to talk about it, so we’re now talking about these things.”