I first read Outlander years ago, so even though the current series takes liberties with plot and characters, I accept those as the price of bringing fiction to a televised (read: larger) audience. It’s all good. Until it goes sour. Ignoring the laws of nature.
Like, if “Outlander” had the sun rising in the west. Nope, against the laws of astronomy (and probably physics). Or if the writers made rain fall up from the ground. Against the laws of physics, specifically gravity.
On this past weekend’s episode, Claire Fraser and her newly delivered sister-in-law Jenny take horse (imagine what that must feel like to the tender, stretched tissues of a woman who’s just given birth) to track the English soldiers who have captured Claire’s Scottish husband. Along the way, Jenny must relieve her milk-engorged breasts to keep up her milk supply and to prevent infection until she can return to her new baby.
To do that, she simply drops her bodice and squeezes the milk out into a cup. The process is called letdown, and happens as a result of hormonal response. (She could even drink her own milk, as this woman did while lost in the wilderness.) It’s a scene straight out of the book. Messy it might be – as almost everything to do with bairns is, Jenny tells Claire – but essential for her own health and for her continued milk supply. As an experienced mother, Jenny knows what she’s doing.
Unfortunately, her body does not. Defying the laws of anatomy and physiology, the pale milk (at least the color is right) squirts out of Jenny’s nipple in a single proud stream.
No. Just no. That’s not how it works. Not with human breasts.
As every breastfeeding woman knows, human nipples have several openings to the active milk ducts. If a nursing child withdraws from the breast, he’ll be spattered with a fine, whitish shower of tiny drops streaming from multiple ducts. If they catch in his hair, they’ll look like sticky-sweet snowflakes.
The milk thus arrives not in a single jet, but in a spray. It’s an effective way to deliver sweet-tasting milk to the tastebuds of a newborn, encouraging her to drink more.
How hard would it have been for the producers of “Outlander” to have researched the matter? Just call a lactation consultant. Ask any woman on the production team who’s nursed her own child. Relay the information to the props department. “Yo, guys, not one stream, but several tiny ones!” A snap.
It’s too bad “Outlander” did not do that. The scene was a moving one, and amusing and practical for women who’ve had to deal with their own excess milk production. Laura Donnelly, who plays Jenny, said in an interview, “I thought that was probably a first on TV. We’re very used to seeing breasts displayed sexually on-screen, and I thought this was an opportunity to show breasts for what they’re really there for, in a completely nonsexual manner, that really turns the tables. It’s an absolute necessity at that point for her, and she doesn’t think twice about it. It’s not something that should be hidden away in any sense, and it’s certainly nothing to be ashamed of.”
Nothing to be ashamed of at all. Except for the way “Outlander” managed the epic fail of mis-portraying the physiology of human breasts.