Meet The Woman Who Breastfed On TV In 1977

Photo: David Redfern/ Redferns/ Getty Images.
It's 2016, and breastfeeding is still, somehow, considered "controversial." Whether the blame belongs on our over-sexualized culture or our silly squeamishness with bodily fluids, the fact is that simply breastfeeding a baby in public can inspire heated debate on social media and IRL. But in 1977, a famous mother named Buffy Sainte-Marie breastfed her child on national TV, sweetly explaining the process to Big Bird, without any pandemonium at all. Recently, the clip went viral, with many reminiscing about the days when you could show breastfeeding on TV. In the clip, Sainte-Marie, who appeared on Sesame Street simply as Buffy, from 1975 to 1979, breastfeeds her son Dakota "Cody" Starblanket Wolfchild by Big Bird's nest. She tells the muppet as he looks on, "Lots of mothers feed their babies this way. Not all mothers, but lots of mothers."
It's the simplest, yet most comprehensive, and therefore most perfect way to describe breastfeeding, and that's likely why it caught fire these past few weeks. Nowadays, doesn't it seem like we spend so many words describing, promoting, and yes, arguing over breastfeeding? As Sainte-Marie explained to Refinery29 in an email, "Breastfeeding on Sesame Street wasn't controversial at all at the time — I never heard any objections — and we reached 72 countries, three times a day, with that informative, cuddly, child-friendly episode."
Aside from this newly famous breastfeeding clip, Sainte-Marie brought other great ideas to her time at Sesame Street. As a Native Canadian, she also felt it was important to educate kids about First Nations culture, and thankfully, producers didn't push back. "The breastfeeding segments were my idea, like the Native American programming I suggested, but Sesame Street producers embraced it immediately," she says.
Sesame Street continues to be a groundbreaking show, but it's a little disheartening to realize that something they were able to show kids decades ago is still (or perhaps, now?) considered "indecent" by some. Instagram only officially allowed breastfeeding photos on the platform last April, and mothers are currently being called out in cafes and restaurants when they try to feed their children. Though she left behind Big Bird and crew long ago, Sainte-Marie has continued her work as an activist and Academy Award-winning songwriter (she helped pen "Up Where We Belong" from An Officer and a Gentleman). Fun fact: She's also responsible for a lot of the movie musical moments you love, with credits on the soundtracks for The Lizzie McGuire Movie, South Park, and Moulin Rogue!

As the breastfeeding debate goes on, the woman who showed a generation of kids it's perfectly normal to feed your baby, however you please, continues to make music and tour. Her latest album Power In The Blood was nominated for two 2016 Juno Awards.

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