Family Matters

Group Petitions to Bring Breastfeeding Back to Sesame Street

Women rely on both breast feeding and bottles to feed their babies, says a group that supports nursing in public. So why does Sesame Street show bottle-feeding exclusively?

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Sesame Street

What’s not to like about lovable furry old Grover and his pals Elmo, Zoe and Oscar the Grouch? If you’re a member of the robust movement that saucily refers to itself as NIP — “nursing in public,” natch — the answer is plenty.

Coming on the heels of a well-attended national “nurse-in” that sought to normalize breast-feeding in Target stores, NIPers are now lowering the boom on Sesame Street. Apparently a generation ago, the kiddie show incorporated tasteful shots of nursing mothers who explained that “lots of mothers feed their babies this way” and that breast milk was “warm and natural.” More recently, however, when a baby gets fed on “The Street,” it seems to be courtesy of a bottle. Not that there’s anything wrong with bottle-feeding, the NIP moms are quick to point out. But bottle-feeding to the exclusion of breast-feeding, especially at a time when even the U.S. Surgeon General has called for more support for breast-feeding mothers?

“You’re My Baby” from a 1980s segment of Sesame Street, which includes a mother breast feeding

That doesn’t make for particularly sunny days. And it’s prompted more than 5,600 people to sign a petition to “bring breastfeeding back to Sesame Street.”

As the authors explain:

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. Please note… We are not asking Sesame Street to remove bottle feeding. We are asking that both ways of feeding babies be shown as normal.

If we normalize breastfeeding in our community, especially with our children, we can help raise a generation of breastfeeders which will support our economy, make for healthier children and lessen the risk of breast cancer for many nursing mamas!

Sesame Street, for its part, doesn’t understand all the fuss. The classic kids’ show doesn’t have an anti-breast-feeding agenda, says Sherrie Westin, executive vice president of Sesame Workshop, which produces Sesame Street; its only agenda is educating preschoolers. “There has never been any edict to remove breast-feeding from the show,” says Westin. “We have included it and absolutely would include it again if it were a natural part of the storyline.”

People have posted comments in support of the petition, including Candice Fisk, who wrote: “No one I knew growing up breastfed their children. The first time I ever saw breastfeeding was on Sesame Street as a little girl. I thought it was a beautiful thing to be able to do as a woman. It may be the reason I first thought to breastfeed my own children.”

MORE: Target Nurse-In: Did It Change Perceptions of Public Breast-Feeding?

For sure, a brand as powerful as Sesame Street has the potential to influence young minds. Earlier this week, I wrote about Sesame Street’s ambitious effort to incorporate more math and science into its current season as a way to inspire more children to take an early interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects.

And who knows? Giving equal footage to both feeding choices just may help cool the conflict between moms who breast feed and moms who rely on bottles. “My kids have only seen me breastfeeding and can’t relate to babies being bottlefed,” noted Lisbeth Little upon signing the petition. “And most bottlefed babies can’t relate to breastfeeding. All kids are naturally curious. We should show them both options.”

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Still, blogger Lani Michelle, who first publicized the old-school Sesame Street videos of nursing — which feature both interested children and a very curious Big Bird looking on — would like Sesame Street to return to the golden era of the 1970s, when she says breast-feeding was part of the original “You’re My Baby” video. Two decades later, she says, the boobs were scrubbed in favor of a bottle-feeding scene. “Why not have both?” she asks on her blog. “Babies are fed both ways, aren’t they? Women breastfeeding are the images we want to show to our sons and daughters so that they will view a woman’s body [as] more then a sexual object.”

Michelle is no producer, but she’s got a suggestion for Sesame Street: what about asking a pro-nursing celebrity to do the honors? Bettina Forbes, co-founder of Best for Babes, which seeks to break down barriers to breast-feeding, is all for that. “Now would be a good time for a currently nursing celebrity like Natalie Portman or Keri Russell to volunteer to appear on Sesame Street,” says Forbes. “We need Hollywood to help beat the Booby Traps and change our culture. After all, if George Clooney could make a Prius sexy and Michael J. Fox can raise millions for Parkinsons, imagine what Beyonce could do for breastfeeding!”

It’s not yet clear how Beyonce is feeding her new daughter, Blue Ivy, but since daddy Jay-Z has already recorded a song featuring her cries, the next logical step just might be Baby Blue’s television debut on “The Street.”
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