Buffy Sainte-Marie opened up about her decision to breastfeed her baby boy on Sesame Street in 1977, saying the groundbreaking moment ‘wasn’t controversial.’
The Oscar-winning singer and Indigenous-rights activist played herself on the children’s series from 1976 to 1981. After the birth of her son, Dakota ‘Cody’ Starblanket Wolfchild, she suggested a breastfeeding segment to educate viewers.
The Sesame Street episode is widely considered to be the first depiction of breastfeeding on television, but it wasn’t seen as a big deal at the time.
‘I know lately [public breastfeeding] is quite inflammatory — there’s always somebody who has to sexualize it — but it was quite normal,’ Sainte-Marie, now 81, told Yahoo Life in a republished interview from last year.
Buffy Sainte-Marie, 81, opened up about her decision to breastfeed her son, Dakota ‘Cody’ Starblanket Wolfchild, on Sesame Street in 1977 during an interview with Yahoo Life
The segment shows her nursing her baby boy in front of Big Bird, explaining that he is drinking milk from her breast
The episode shows the mother of one breastfeeding her son while Big Bird watched over her shoulder and asks what she is doing.
‘I’m feeding the baby,’ she explains. ‘See, he’s drinking milk from my breast.’
‘That’s a funny way to feed a baby,’ Big Bird says.
‘Lots of mothers feed their babies this way,’ Sainte-Marie replies. ‘Not all mothers, but lots of mothers do.’
The Canadian-American musician told Yahoo Life that the idea for the segment was brought on by her post-birth experience in the hospital.
The Canadian-American noted that the segment ‘wasn’t controversial’ and was considered ‘quite normal’ at the time
‘When I woke up from delivering my baby, there was a big basket of stuff from some formula company,’ she recalled. ‘I prefer to breastfeed, but … there’s no money involved in breastfeeding, therefore 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?’
Sainte-Marie, who was already breastfeeding her son off-camera, said the show’s producers were immediately open to the idea.
‘It wasn’t a thing. It wasn’t controversial,’ she explained. ‘I suggested it to the producers, who were just wonderful, by the way. They never stereotyped me into being “the Sesame Street Indian.”‘
The Oscar-winning singer and Indigenous-rights activist played herself on the children’s series from 1976 to 1981
Sainte-Marie became the first Indigenous person to win an Academy Award when her hit Where We Belong was named Best Original Song in 1983
Sainte-Marie’s life and career are the focus of the upcoming documentary Buffy Sainte-Marie: Carry It On
‘We did segments on sibling rivalry, breastfeeding, multiculturalism, travel, all kinds of things besides Indigenous things,’ she added.