I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Sesame Street has gone way down hill. (Damn you, Elmo!) Back in the day, Sesame Street was truly wholesome and worked hard to foster acceptance, caring, learning and hundreds of other good principles. So why does a discussion of Sesame Street belong on the reproductive health blog of a doula, childbirth education apprentice, and breastfeeding research assistant? Because throughout the 1970s and 80s, Sesame Street included frank, warm and fuzzy discussions about breastfeeding on the show. Even the popular Maria, played by Sonia Manzano, who has been on the show since 1974, breastfed her baby on the show. As the Huffington Post recently reported, breastfeeding on Sesame Street abruptly stopped in the 90s. They’re still showing feeding infants, but those feedings are all from the bottle. I, for one, am bummed. I thought they did an amazing job of tastefully showing breastfeeding as a healthy, normal way to feed a baby.
In my favorite clip, a woman named Buffy breastfeeds her baby in front of Big Bird. The segment’s sole purpose is apparently to establish the act of breastfeeding as normal. Here’s the transcript for the clip (embedded below):
Big Bird: “Whatcha doin’ Buffy?”
Buffy: “I’m feeding the baby. See, he’s drinking milk from my breast.”
Big Bird: “That’s a funny way to feed a baby.”
Buffy: “Lots of mothers feed their baby this way. Not all mothers, but lots of mothers do. He likes it because it’s nice and warm and sweet and natural. And it’s good for him. And I get to hug him when I do it, see.”
Big Bird: “Oh. Well is that all he ever needs to eat?”
Buffy: “Well, at first, when he was just born, and very tiny, this is all that he wanted and all that he needed, but now that he’s getting bigger, see, I mash up fruit and vegetables and sometimes a little bit of meat, and as he gets older he’ll need more and more different kinds of food to eat, but for right now, this is just fine. He’s drinking his milk.”
Big Bird: “You know… that’s nice.”
I love that Big Bird, who is developmentally aligned with a five or six-year-old, asks the same honest, curious questions that a real kindergartener might ask a breastfeeding mom. Just as children aren’t inherently racist, sexist or any other “ist”, children don’t view breasts as sexual or gross unless we feed them that idea. But they may not have seen breastfeeding before, and they might be curious!
Buffy answers Big Birds questions so gracefully, honestly and smartly. I like that she doesn’t shy away from using the word breast– there is nothing inappropriate about teaching children proper names for body parts. I love that while she’s clearly a breastfeeding advocate, she explains, in simplest terms, that not all mothers choose or are able to breastfeed, and without vilifying them. Buffy succinctly explains the benefits of breastfeeding: that the baby likes it best, that it’s healthy for him, and that it comes with skin-to-skin contact, in a clear, easy to understand and developmentally appropriate way. She explains how he’ll eventually be weened, and take on a healthy, balanced diet.
I imagine myself as a five year old being somewhat bored with this segment, but I think that’s fine! No one is forcing young children to be interested in what adults (or babies) do, just laying a foundation so that children will grow up imagining this healthy habit as a normal one. Sesame Street could make a huge impact if they’d return to this format of education, and away from the chaotic, grammatically incorrect world of Elmo. Educational television can be more than just numbers and letters. It can be about inclusion, friendship, hope, honesty, and promoting a multitude of healthy habits, like breastfeeding. And in the words of my childhood hero Big Bird, you know… that’s nice.