Buffy Sainte-Marie breastfed her baby on 'Sesame Street' in 1977. Why she says the groundbreaking moment 'wasn't controversial'
Breast, bottle, whatever: How You Feed is a shame-free series on how babies eat.
Buffy Sainte-Marie may be best known for her work as a social activist and singer-songwriter — in 1983 she became the first Indigenous person to win an Oscar when "Up Where We Belong," which she co-wrote for the film An Officer and a Gentleman, was named Best Original Song — but she also holds a distinction that's significant to the history of breastfeeding and pop culture.
From 1976 to 1981, the Canadian-American star played herself on Sesame Street. Two years in, she introduced her infant son, Dakota "Cody" Starblanket Wolfchild, by breastfeeding him on-screen as Big Bird watched on. The groundbreaking 1977 episode is considered to be the first depiction of breastfeeding on TV. (In 1988, Sesame Street actress Sonia Manzano, who played Maria, was also briefly shown nursing her child during the show.)
Speaking to Yahoo Life last year, Sainte-Marie, now 81, opened up about the important moment.
"I know lately [public breastfeeding] is quite inflammatory — there's always somebody who has to sexualize it — but it was quite normal," explained Sainte-Marie. She noted that her request to nurse her baby on-screen was partly motivated by her experience in the hospital.
"When I woke up from delivering my baby, there was a big basket of stuff from some formula company," she explains. "I prefer to breastfeed, but … there's no money involved in breastfeeding, therefore this there's nobody making a fortune on it. The formula companies were putting a lot of money into education in medical hospitals. So that's kind of the difference. And sometimes there's not somebody to blame for the things that you wish would change in the world … So why don't I talk about it?" And she did.
"It wasn't a thing. It wasn't controversial," the Cree performer, who will be the subject of an upcoming American Masters documentary airing on PBS in November, says. "I suggested it to the producers, who were just wonderful, by the way. They never stereotyped me into being 'the Sesame Street Indian'… We did segments on sibling rivalry, breastfeeding, multiculturalism, travel, all kinds of things besides Indigenous things."
—Video produced by Jacquie Cosgrove.
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