Sunday brought to a close six seasons of HBO’s Girls, with the show's protagonist taking on one of the biggest challenges of motherhood: breastfeeding.
The finale picks up five months after the previous episode, as main character Hannah, played by Lena Dunham, struggles to raise her son with the help of her best friend Marnie, played by Allison Williams.
In the episode, Hannah finds herself struggling to get her baby to latch while breastfeeding, after he'd successfully done so during his first six weeks.
When Hannah brings her breastfeeding concerns to a pediatrician, he responds: “Sometimes there’s something ― the chemistry, the fit, it’s just off."
This conversation instills a fear in Hannah that her baby hates her, and makes her feel like a bad mother. Scene after scene depict Hannah trying to coax her baby to breastfeed while Marnie attempts to lend advice on the best tricks and techniques.
Hannah's struggle is all too real.
According to research from UC Davis Medical Center, only 13 percent of mothers are able to breastfeed for the full first six months of a baby's life, as is commonly recommended. However, a social stigma against formula feeding persists. “Not surprisingly, some women expect breastfeeding to be easy, but then find themselves faced with challenges,” reads a report on breastfeeding from the U.S. Surgeon General.
“The incongruity between expectations about breastfeeding and the reality of the mother’s early experiences with breastfeeding her infant has been identified as a key reason that many mothers stop breastfeeding within the first two weeks postpartum.”
The final episode, appropriately titled “Latching,” also takes on the classic debate between breast milk and formula feeding.
In the beginning, Hannah and Marnie are set on avoiding formula.
“There’s a reason they call breast milk ‘liquid gold,” Marnie says.
Though the Surgeon General strongly advises breastfeeding during the first six months of a child's life, some mothers have pushed back on the recommendation, saying it relies on flawed methodology and places undue pressure on mothers.
That pushback is expressed by Hannah's mother, who tells her: “I was raised on formula, nice post-war formula. What's the fucking problem? I mean, you turned out fine."
As the story progresses and the difficulties of motherhood continue to pile on Hannah, she eventually softens, and finds herself feeding formula to the baby by the end of the episode.
The episode has been praised for its realistic interpretation of newfound parenthood.
In an interview with Variety, Dunham explains that the writers weren’t hoping to share a perfect picture of motherhood, but one that brings in the personal confusions, sacrifices and difficulties that come with bringing a child into the world.
“We weren’t trying to come down on pro or against breastfeeding or what’s better or what’s not,” Dunham said. “It was more about Hannah’s expectation of herself, and of her child, and the way in which she would feel so disconnected if that didn’t work out instantly for her.”