In the 1970s and ’80s, it wasn’t uncommon for Sesame Street to show nursing mothers — whether in a full segment or a passing clip — but in recent decades, the show has replaced the breast with bottle-feeding.
When celebrated singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie appeared as a regular on Sesame Street from 1976-1981, she covered a range of topics from sibling rivalry to Native American culture. One memorable 1977 moment showed her breastfeeding her son, Dakota “Cody” Starblanket Wolfchild, which was her idea.
“At the time, breastfeeding was totally overwhelmed by the formula companies so that young mothers recovering from childbirth, they would have a big basket of formula. The doctors didn’t understand how to teach them how to breastfeed,” she told CKOM in an interview back in 2014.
The clip shows Sainte-Marie explaining breastfeeding to Big Bird, who says, “That’s a funny way to feed a baby.” The singer rocks Cody as he nurses and replies that 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.” At the end of the segment, Big Bird says, “You know, that’s nice.”
A similar clip from the late 1980s shows Sonia Manzano, who played Maria, breastfeeding her daughter Gabriella and explaining how and what the baby eats to a curious little girl.
In those decades, breastfeeding was also shown on Sesame Street in more subtle ways. This video of animals feeding their babies includes a human mother at the end, and the “You’re My Baby” song shows a baby breastfeeding in the original 1980s video. An updated version from 2007 changed the breastfeeding scene to a bottle-fed baby moment.
The original “You’re My Baby” video, left, and the updated version. (Photos: YouTube)
In 2012, a petition entitled “Bring Breastfeeding Back to Sesame Street!” garnered more than 35,000 signatures. It reads, “Back in the 70’s and 80’s nursing was tastefully shown on the show but now they have replaced their nursing videos with bottles. We are not asking Sesame Street to remove bottle feeding. We are asking that both ways of feeding babies be shown as normal.”