Buffy Sainte-Marie shares what prompted her to breastfeed publicly on “Sesame Street”

Her explanation of what she was doing to Big Bird remains an all-time classic.

In addition to letters and numbers, “Sesame Street” taught children about life.

In 1977, Buffy Sainte-Marie did something revolutionary: she breastfed her child on Sesame Street.

The Indigenous Canadian-American singer-songwriter was simply feeding her child, like millions of other mothers. However, the fact that she was breastfeeding him was significant because breastfeeding rates in the United States had reached an all-time low in 1971 and were just beginning a comeback. The fact that she did it openly on a children’s television program made it even more remarkable, as “What if children see?” has been a key argument used by critics of breastfeeding in public.

The most remarkable aspect of the “Sesame Street” segment, however, was the charming exchange between Big Bird and Sainte-Marie when he inquired about her activities.

“I’m feeding the baby,” Sainte-Marie told him. “See? He’s drinking milk from my breast.”

Sainte-Marie did not display anything that a reasonable person could find offensive, nor did she conceal her child under a blanket. From Big Bird’s perspective, he could see precisely what was occurring, and Sainte-Marie appeared perfectly at ease with this.

Big Bird pondered her response before remarking, “Hmm…that’s a funny way to feed a baby.”

“Lots of mothers feed their babies this way,” Sainte-Marie said. “Not all mothers, but lots of mothers do. 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, see?”

Sainte-Marie responded to Big Bird’s questions with simple, matter-of-fact, and nonjudgmental responses, and it is truly a thing of beauty. Watch:

This segment was filmed 46 years ago, and it’s hard to believe that some people still object to a mother breastfeeding in public. There have been waves of education and advocacy to normalize breastfeeding, but it wasn’t until 2018 that every state in the United States enacted legislation protecting breastfeeders from being cited or fined. Even now, some mothers receive criticism for not feeding their children in a bathroom or car.

Sainte-Marie recently discussed the origins of that segment with Yahoo Life. During her second season on “Sesame Street,” she became pregnant, and she always brought her child to work. She breastfed off-camera, and one day she requested that the show address breastfeeding.

“The reason why I did that really was because when I woke up from delivering my baby, I was in the hospital, and over here on the table was a big basket of stuff from some formula company. And I preferred to breastfeed, but the doctors didn’t understand about breastfeeding. They hadn’t learned it.”

According to the CDC, physicians still lack adequate breastfeeding education and training, so regardless of how far we’ve come with breastfeeding education, we clearly have a long way to go.

Watch Sainte-Marie discuss how she came to share breastfeeding with the audience of “Sesame Street”:

Thank you, Buffy, for providing a beautiful example of how to discuss breastfeeding that is as applicable today as it was forty years ago.