You’ve seen a toddler pretend to breastfeed a doll, right? I know I have – little boys and girls alike holding dolls, teddy bears and even toy Ninja Turtles to their chests, and making sucking sounds with their mouths. I actually think it’s the cutest thing ever – as do the littles’ moms, who, of course, are the objects of their children’s devotion and endless imitation. Some of these kiddos are breast-fed toddlers, and some simply see their mamas feeding infant siblings at the breast. Whatever the case, when the kiddos are playing and want to feed their own ‘babies,’ they feed their babies what babies – in their experience -- eat: milk. Breast milk.
When the Spanish toy maker Berjuan Toys capitalized on kids’ imitative nursing play by introducing a ‘breast feeding doll’ to American consumers over a year ago, however, critics saw the toy as anything but obvious. Although bottle-fed baby dolls abound on toy store shelves (along with dolls that pee, dolls that burp… and dolls that look like prostitutes), a breastfeeding doll was just too much for the American public to handle. The doll, which makes happy nursing sounds when held close to sensors hidden behind flower-shaped decals on a child-size vest, was called inappropriate, and (of course) sexual. In recent weeks, Bill O’Reilly said of the doll, in disgust “I just want kids to be kids… And this kind of stuff, we don’t need this.” Needless to say, the doll has not yet been able to secure placement in mainstream American toy stores. Berjuan Toys is offering 50% off of its (hefty) price tag for The Breast Milk Baby during this holiday season, to try and get some traction among consumers, but whether Americans will buy remains to be seen.
Bill O’Reilly is hardly the authoritative voice of America, but we definitely do have a complex around breasts. Breastfeeding – even pretend breastfeeding – brings out the crazy, culturally, and sets our conflicting standards in sharp contrast. It’s fine for boobs to sell beer, but no way should they be seen feeding a baby in a restaurant or a store. Fans of breasts can enjoy this Facebook group, but moms who have breasts better not post any photos of themselves nursing (on their own personal FB accounts), lest they get censored. Husbands like breasts in the bedroom, but don’t necessarily share well with others… even their own kids. And America’s best-loved doll – Barbie – has bodily proportions that are physically impossible on a human, but a breastfeeding baby doll is – somehow – sexual and inappropriate… I don’t get it.
As far as ‘kids should be kids’ is concerned, playing at adulthood is what kids do. Has O’Reilly met any toddlers lately? Has he seen the toys they clamor for? Miniature lawn mowers, vacuum cleaners, kitchens, dolls. Pretending to be a parent is a part of being a kid! And breastfeeding a baby is a part of being a parent, for many parents, anyway. That children play at this is wonderful. They’re imitating a moment of nurturing and closeness that is perfectly natural and appropriate between parents and their little ones. Children who play at this will undoubtedly be far less affected by our culture’s conflicted relationship with breasts, and far more comfortable breastfeeding their own babies when they become parents themselves. (Or, if they’re boys, eventually supporting their partners in breastfeeding… Or simply not bullying breastfeeding moms.)
I think it’s totally fine for kids to see women breastfeeding. Yes, even if they see some boob in the process. It’s fine! And I think it’s fine for kids to pretend to breastfeed. The breastfeeding doll is a great idea – in light of the way kids naturally play – and, although it’s kinda pricey and arguably unnecessary (see above re: teddy bears and Ninja Turtles), lots of toys are overpriced and unnecessary. But this is America, right? Let’s get those breastfeeding baby dolls on the shelves and move some product! In all seriousness, though, I actually think the breastfeeding dolls would be ideal in preschools, pediatrician’s office play areas, young children’s rooms in churches, and the like, where the dolls will facilitate and inspire the kind of creative, imaginary, interactive and imitative play littles love.
What do you think? Is the breastfeeding doll inappropriate? Are Americans overreacting? Would you buy one of these dolls for your kids? Share your thoughts!