Philosophy with Attitude

February 16, 2004:

I watched Sesame Street with my son (almost 4) this morning. It was a show about babies, as Baby Bear has a new sister (Curly Bear). But of all the babies shown, and some were shown eating, not a single one was shown breastfeeding. All of the infants were being bottlefed, including Curly Bear. So I wrote this to the Children's Television Workshop on their Contact page:

As a nearly-30-year-old, I grew up on Sesame Street myself, and am happy that my nearly-4-year-old son also enjoys Sesame Street. However, I was somewhat disappointed with the show we saw today, which was all about babies. I have a four-month-old baby girl, and my son has been just terrific with her. But there's one thing he doesn't see in our house: bottles. Both of my children were/are exclusively breastfed as babies, which is the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics, among other organizations.

However, not a single one of the babies shown on Sesame Street was shown nursing. All of the babies who were eating were shown having bottles. As most women in the United States at least start out breastfeeding their babies (initiation rates are about 96% in the hospital), it seems to me that a majority of the preschoolers in the US will also have seen their mothers nursing their siblings. Why is this not the case on Sesame Street? Surely it can't be because nursing is somehow "controversial" in nature; it is quite possible to breastfeed a baby without showing any of the mother's breast. It would have been nice to at least see Baby Bear's mother nurse Curly Bear, as she doesn't have any skin to show (and therefore offend the easily, albeit mistakenly, offendable).

The only way we will be able to increase the rates of breastfeeding in the United States is to get rid of the notion that bottlefeeding is the "normal" or only socially-acceptable way of feeding babies. This needs to start when kids are little. Right now, pretty much every baby doll comes with a bottle. Bottles are ubiquitous, and so children assume that they are the way that babies *have* to get fed. Will these children grow up to think of breastfeeding as a normal way to feed babies? If they see it in the media along with bottlefeeding, I think the chance goes up substantially!

I would have thought that at CTW would understand that breastfeeding is of importance to babies and their future health, mental and physical, and give it at least a little time on a program devoted to caring for babies. Sure, show the bottles; they are a way for fathers and siblings to feed babies, and many mothers do chose to bottlefeed their babies. But a growing and educated number of women chose to breastfeed, and their preschool-aged children should also see their choice represented.

Jan Andrea

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