While nearly 30,000 petition signees clearly think that breastfeeding should be shown on Sesame Street as a normal, healthy way to feed babies, it seems that there is still a strong reaction by those who think that breastfeeding images are “damaging” to children. And, even though a Sesame Street executive claims that breastfeeding simply has not been part of the natural storyline and there is no edict to remove breastfeeding from the show, Care2.com blogger Annie Urban points out that:
“Infant feeding is very much part of the storyline on Sesame Street, so the argument that breastfeeding isn’t part of the storyline, doesn’t make a lot of sense. The Elmo’s World “Babies, Dogs and More” DVD teaches children what babies eat and only talks about and shows bottle feeding. Another example is the “you’re my baby” video that included both breastfeeding and bottle feeding in the 1980s, but was replaced by a newer version with only bottle fed babies in the 1990s.”
So, we thought it would be great to ask some top-notch pediatricians for their thoughts on whether children should see breastfeeding, and whether breastfeeding has a place on Sesame Street. Here are their responses:
The normalization of breastfeeding via Sesame Street–this seems like a natural fit. Unfortunately, this seemingly benign idea is being met with controversy. Sesame Street is an institution, teaching kids for the past 30+ years! What better way to teach children (and their parents) about something that helps prevent obesity, illness, chronic disease, AND can also keep their moms healthy–yes, breastfeeding does ALL that! As a pediatrician and mother of 3, my children have seen me breastfeed and, as a result, for them it’s not gross or something to be shunned, but instead it’s just a natural, healthy act between a mother and baby. For Sesame Street to model something so simple and natural is an important public health message–which aligns perfectly with Sesame Street’s mission on childhood education. — Natasha K. Sriraman, MD, MPH, FAAP, IBCLC; Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, Eastern Virginia Medical School
“In our society most people, including our youth, do not see breastfeeding as the norm, but instead have grown accustomed to bottle feeding. Billions of health care dollars and hundreds of lives could be saved if our society could support exclusive breastfeeding. The better we become at supporting breastfeeding mothers to continue to breastfeed the more comfortable we will be as a society to incorporate breastfeeding as a natural and ideal part of child rearing. Sesame Street is a perfect venue to show the cultural norm of breastfeeding.” — Lori Feldman-Winter, MD, MPH, Div. Head, Adolescent Medicine, Cooper University Hospital; Professor of Pediatrics, UMDNJ-RWJMS & frequent spokesperson for the AAP.
“Breastfeeding is the best low cost way to improve the health of mothers and children and to fight the obesity epidemic. As scientific knowledge of its health benefits for women and children has accelerated in recent years, it has advanced beyond simply a “lifestyle choice” to become an important health decision. Children learn through experience and will model adult behavior, both healthy and unhealthy. Presenting breastfeeding as a normal, healthy behavior could have a big impact on improving breastfeeding rates which is an important public health goal. I am sure that most of my pediatrician colleagues would support and welcome episodes of Sesame Street showing breastfeeding as the normal healthy way to nourish and nurture infants. In fact, it would make a great clip to run in office waiting rooms to help normalize breastfeeding for children, their parents, grandparents and other caregivers!” — Susan Vierczhalek, MD; Clinical Assistant Professor, NYU Langone Medical Center; Vice Chief, American Academy of Pediatrics Chapter Breastfeeding Coordinators Steering Committee
Why is this such a controversy? Babies breastfeed. It’s a fact of nature and it is the norm. Children accept this without question. As more and more women breastfeed, we are seeing a generation of children who are watching their younger siblings nurse and are completely comfortable with it. It’s the adults who are too uptight to accept breastfeeding. Breastfeeding should not be hidden. I applaud programs that reflect what we are seeing in the community and modeling this natural, healthy behavior for children. — Jennifer Shaer MD, FAAP, IBCLC; Peconic Pediatrics and Breastfeeding Medicine, Allied Pediatrics of New York, PLLC
“When children grow up seeing mothers in their family or community breastfeed, they are less likely to take issue with or even notice others nursing in public or on television. It becomes normalized for them. This is especially needed in the African American community where the decision to not breastfeed for generations has undoubtedly played a role in higher rates of health problems that breastfeeding provides protection against, such as obesity, asthma and diabetes. Too many African American women breastfeed in the shadows or choose not to do so at all because they fear the disparaging looks or comments they may receive. In fact, I had one mother share with me that her decision to breastfeed in church was met with remarks that it should be a sin. This was from a child who clearly had not been taught that breastfeeding is the normal way to feed your baby. My response would have been it can’t be a sin because Jesus was breastfed. It would be great to see more female African American celebrities breastfeeding publicly since so many of our young girls look up to and emulate them. Perhaps those young girls will take notice and follow suit when they have their own children.” – Sahira Long, MD, FAAP, IBCLC; President, DC Breastfeeding Coalition
“Breastfeeding has been shown tastefully and wonderfully on Sesame Street in the past, and it’s time to bring it back. It’s important that children see breastfeeding as a beautiful, natural and normal way to feed babies, as long as mother and baby are willing and are able to . . . it is just as important as teaching children about exercise and eating vegetables. Breastfeeding increases a baby’s health, can reduce obesity and diabetes and reduce a mother’s risk of breast cancer. Sesame Street has had great success in helping to remove cultural stigmas, promoting healthful habits and educating children on tolerance, respect and understanding. Breastfeeding and bottle-feeding mothers and babies alike deserve to be treated in that wonderful Sesame Street tradition.” – Harvey Karp, MD, FAAP; author, The Happiest Baby on the Block (DVD/book)
If your pediatrician wants to learn more about lactation management, point them to the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Breastfeeding.
Do you agree with these pediatricians? Should Sesame Street include breastfeeding along with bottle-feeding (whether pumped milk, donor milk or formula) on the show?