Parents

18 Times Breastfeeding Was Portrayed Onscreen, For Better Or Worse

"Sesame Street," "Gilmore Girls," and even "Rugrats" have depicted breastfeeding.
08/27/2015 01:35pm ET | Updated September 1, 2015

Breastfeeding has appeared onscreen in various films and television shows for years, as a way to educate children, create a relatable plot line or even inject humor into a situation. From "Sex and the City" to "Sesame Street," these shows and movies that feature breastfeeding do so in a wide range of ways -- sometimes empowering and at other times just altogether problematic. But there's something to learn from each depiction.

From portrayals that sexualize breastfeeding mothers' bodies to positive examples that normalize nursing, Hollywood sends some very mixed messages about the way so many moms feed their babies. Here are 18 TV shows and movies that depict breastfeeding and what we can learn from them.

1. "Sesame Street"

In a 1977 episode of "Sesame Street," cast member Buffy Sainte-Marie breastfed her son Cody and told Big Bird about nursing."Lots of mothers feed their babies this way," she said. "Not all mothers, but lots of mothers do." There was a similar scene with Sonia Marzano aka Maria in an 1988 episode.

These breastfeeding moments on the children's program showed that it's a topic parents can feel comfortable explaining to their kids and helped normalize the sight of breastfeeding.

2. "Gilmore Girls"

Curmudgeonly Luke expresses a disappointing opinion on breastfeeding in the "Gilmore Girls" season three episode, “Eight O’Clock at the Oasis.” He rants about a large table of parents with their small children in his diner, and he says some pretty offensive things when one of the mothers starts to nurse her baby.

"When did that become acceptable?" Luke said. "In the old days, a woman would never consider doing that in public. They’d go find a barn or a cave or something. I mean, it’s indecent; this is a diner, not a peep show."

Lorelai's refusal to ask the woman to stop and Rory's dissenting facial expression suggest that the heroines don't condone Luke's attitude. However, the scene is a missed opportunity to explain that breastfeeding is not a sexualized act or "peep show."

3. "Sex and the City"

In the season five premiere of "Sex and the City," Carrie finds it hard to talk to Miranda who is trying to breastfeed Brady. "Your breasts are huge!" Carrie exclaims.

The scene shows that breastfeeding is not easy for many moms, that breasts grow and change when a mother is nursing and that new motherhood can be truly exhausting.

4. "Friends"

The topic of breastfeeding came up on "Friends" several times throughout its 10-year run. In the season two episode "The One with the Breast Milk," Carol breastfeeds Ben in Monica's apartment, which makes Joey and Chandler uncomfortable. "This is the most natural, beautiful thing in the world," Ross says. "This is my son having lunch."

Ross' defense of breastfeeding is awesome, but later in the episode, he shares another opinion when he says the idea of tasting breast milk disgusts him. These seemingly conflicting attitudes shed light on the many specific opinions toward breastfeeding that nursing moms face when they try to feed their babies in public.

In season nine, Rachel tries to breastfeed her newborn daughter with the help of a reassuring nurse at the hospital -- another realistic experience for new moms. But the scene instead focuses on Joey's discomfort, thus making Rachel's earnest questions comedic. The scene turns a potentially educational moment into a joke by giving into certain people's skewed views of breastfeeding.

5. "The Hangover"

A brief scene in "The Hangover" shows a stripper played by Heather Graham nursing her baby while talking to the three leading men -- all of whom appear visibly uncomfortable and unable to look away from her breasts.

A classic "bro comedy," this scene in the movie exemplifies the problem with sexualizing breastfeeding under the male gaze. As with Rachel and Joey's scene on "Friends," this portrayal perpetuates the notion that women using their breasts for anything other than men's pleasure is somehow wrong or uncomfortable.

6. "The Office"

"The Office" portrays breastfeeding a few different times throughout its nine seasons. Pam's difficulties with breastfeeding after giving birth to her first child in season six represents an experience that many new moms can relate to -- though the "nursing the wrong baby" gag may be a less common occurrence.

In another season six episode, Pam can't find her breast pump in the office, so farm-dwelling Dwight offers to help her express her breast milk, lest her "breasts explode." Dwight's offer suggest his understanding of a mother's need to express breast milk, though it's a bit derailed by his creepy proposition and thoughts on what happens to engorged breasts.

Still, this depiction of in-office pumping contrasts an earlier episode when Ryan shames a female transfer from the Dunder Mifflin Stamford branch for pumping breast milk at her desk in the office. The scene also suggests that the Scranton office unfortunately at that time didn't have a pumping room, which is an important resource for women in the workplace.

7. "Rugrats"

In a flashback scene during the fourth season of "Rugrats," Phil and Lil look back on the times when their mom used to feed them "the old way." The scene shows their mom tandem nursing the twins, as they gleefully kick each other and then start to laugh.

This onscreen moment shows breastfeeding as a joyful experience for both mom and especially baby. The fact that a children's show featured this clip in 1997 proves that breastfeeding is not an "inappropriate" topic for kids.

8. "Grown Ups"

In "Grown Ups," Maria Bello's character breastfeeds her 4-year-old son -- leading to judgment from fellow parents. Her nursing is a source of tension between the mom and her husband, who later hands his son a carton of milk to make him "wean."

While extended breastfeeding has been a source of controversy in the past, shaming a mother for her parenting decisions, especially when it comes to feeding her children, is not cool.

9. "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood"

A 1984 episode of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" featured an educational segment about breastfeeding. "Most baby animals and human babies start out by drinking their mothers' milk," the television host says before showing a montage of mammals nursing their babies -- including human mamas breastfeeding and bottle-feeding their little ones.

Like the "Sesame Street" clips, this example suggests that there was a greater sense of acceptance around breastfeeding in public in the past. The image of bottle-feeding also showed an inclusive way to talk about feeding babies.

10. "Scrubs"

During a season two episode of "Scrubs," the doctors visibly disapprove of a mother's extended breastfeeding. One medical professional tells the mom's son to get on his bike and go buy himself some milk, while Zach Braff's character visualizes a teenager who still nurses.

Braff's line, "I think at a certain point, breastfeeding becomes creepy," is problematic, especially coming from a character who is supposed to be a doctor.

11. "2 Broke Girls"

This scene from "2 Broke Girls" is yet another example of the use of extended breastfeeding as a comedic device in a TV show. The staff at the diner are disgusted by the fact that a customer is breastfeeding her son, who is certainly older than the age when moms traditionally stop nursing. In the U.S., only 27 percent of babies are still breastfeeding at 12 months, though worldwide, 58 percent of 20 to 23 month olds are still breastfed.

"Some mothers tend to breastfeed for a lot longer these days. It's called attachment parenting," waitress Caroline explains to Max, Han and Earl, who were watching the mom and child. Max then says, "When the kid's that big, it's called dating."

Max's comment sexualizes nursing and is another onscreen example of shaming a mother for her decisions about how she feeds her child. This trend of public shaming, as depicted in this scene, adds to the stigma surrounding breastfeeding, which can often discourage mothers from nursing.

12. "Family Guy"

In a season two episode of "Family Guy," the show makes a joke out of nursing when Peter Griffin tries to breastfeed baby Stewie -- casting it as source of gross-out humor. Two seasons later, Stewie goes through drug-like withdrawals when Lois tries to wean him, and the mom's breasts become so engorged that she rips her shirt open.

In season nine, Meg breastfeeds baby Susie in a restaurant, which totally disgusts the baby's father Joe. Though it is unclear how Meg does this since she is not a mom and has never had a baby, Joe's strong reaction to the breastfeeding is also not a very positive portrayal of nursing.

While Joe's disgust is likely part of the show's long-running joke about Meg's unattractiveness, this undercuts the fact that every mother, whatever she may look like, has the right to nurse her child in public in the U.S. Whether or not men find her body attractive is completely irrelevant.

13. "Meet The Fockers"

In this memorable scene from "Meet the Fockers," Ben Stiller's character Greg says "Eww" when he finds out he's just drunk some of his sister-in-law Debbie's pumped breast milk. His father-in-law then reveals a replica of Debbie's breast that he uses to feed his grandson her pumped milk.

While the scene suggests sensitivity in trying to do what's best for the mother's baby, the male gaze is clearly present. Greg expresses discomfort and sexualizes the nursing mom's replica breast (though admittedly, it is a bit unusual).

14. "Game of Thrones"

When "Game of Thrones" viewers first meet Lysa Arryn, she's breastfeeding her son, who is at least 6 years old. Lysa proves to be a very volatile character with obsessive tendencies, so her extended breastfeeding becomes conflated with her general instability.

This portrayal casts nursing as something "gross" and "wrong," and it's problematic in its suggestion that a mother's decisions when it comes to breastfeeding are a reflection of her mental state. The way a mom nourishes her child does not make her crazy or an unfit mother, and suggesting otherwise justifies the policing of breastfeeding women.

15. "Flirting with Disaster"

When Patricia Arquette's character in "Flirting with Disaster" breastfeeds her baby on an airplane next to a chatty male friend from high school, her jealous husband hands her the baby bag and says, "Honey, why don't you cover yourself up?"

The old friend (played by Josh Brolin) then gives her unsolicited advice about breastfeeding techniques to avoid nipple irritation. "You have very beautiful breasts by the way," he adds.

This scene casts men as the nursing mother's overlords and sexualizes breastfeeding by making it part of the female character's flirtation with Brolin's character. Also, a nursing mom's partner should not make any sort of scene over her breastfeeding in public and should be supportive when it comes to how she feeds her child.

16. "Nip/Tuck"

In a season two episode of "Nip/Tuck," Gina calls upon her on-and-off romantic partner Christian to help her when she needs to express milk. "I am a frazzled working mother who forgot her breast pump!" she exclaims.

While Gina makes a relatable point about the life of a working parent with a baby at home, the tension-filled scene sexualizes breastfeeding by conflating the couple's physical relationship and her need to express breast milk.

The clip also suggests that Gina, who has borderline personality disorder, may be using her breastfeeding situation to manipulate Christian into being intimate with her. The scene thus misrepresents breastfeeding moms by implying that they may not always have their baby's best interests at heart.

17. "Weeds"

A scene from a season five episode of "Weeds" shows Nancy desperately asking Andy to suck the milk from her painfully engorged breasts. "Please be the baby!" she asks him.

The scene doesn't sexualize breastfeeding as much as the clip above from "Nip/Tuck," but Andy takes it there when he swallows the breast milk and says, "well, I didn't want to be a hypocrite."

18. "The Life & Times of Tim"

Tim makes an ass of himself in the first season of "The Life & Times of Tim" when he suggests that a woman breastfeeding her baby at a restaurant needs to cover up. Tim's girlfriend and everyone else in the restaurant sides with the mom, noting that they didn't notice and weren't bothered by the fact that she was nursing in their presence.

Amy's negative reaction to Tim's offense, as well as the response from the other restaurant patrons, perfectly sum up the problem with asking a nursing mom to "put her breast away."

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