One of my favorite photos of me as a little girl shows me at about 2.5 years old sitting on the couch next to my mom with my glasses, blond curls, my shirt pulled up and a baby doll’s face pressed against my chest. I have the biggest cheesiest smile of a very proud preschooler because I was breastfeeding my baby just like my mom was breastfeeding hers. That picture is featured in one of our many family photo albums. I don’t ever remember being embarrassed or thinking it was strange. It was just me, pretending to be a mommy and as far as I was concerned, that’s just how mommies feed their babies. To me, it was normal. (I search for potential warning signs of abnormal in children pretending to breastfeed toys here.)
I haven’t changed much in my opinion on that even now. That’s just how mommies feed their babies. To me, it still is normal.
When the Breast Milk Baby first came to the media’s attention state side (I had seen the Spanish version about a year before) I figured there’d be a report or two and then everyone would move on to more interesting topics. Like, you know, real news. I wasn’t going to blog about it since I don’t usually write about what’s in the news and my opinion of it would probably seem pretty obvious. Then I kept seeing it, over and over again, different articles, news talk shows, and loads of blogs. Everyone was talking about this thing in both positive and negative terms. Are we normalizing breastfeeding with this doll? Over-sexualizing young girls? Encouraging teen pregnancy? Making formula feeding moms feel guilty? Making a lasting impact on the future of breastfeeding? News commentators and bloggers pontificated on the perceived dangers or wonders of the plastic baby. I thought I’d let them and I’d just continue on my merry way writing about whatever I want instead of the popular hot topic news. Which is how I like it.
But then I was reading one of those articles and clicked on the video to watch the commercial for the doll. Over my shoulder I heard “What’s that? A baby doll? Why is there a video about a girl playing with a baby doll?”
I invited my young impromptu audience for a viewing of the clip and asked them if I could ask them a few questions afterward. They agreed and piled onto the couch with me their air crackling with anticipation worthy of a world premier. It was as if we were attending The Leaky Boob film festival. All 6 of us.
“What’s that she’s putting on?”
“Awww! It’s a baby! I like babies, mommy.”
“Is the baby eating the flowers?”
“Why would a baby eat flowers?”
A burst of laughter at the baby’s burp. Bodily functions humor never fails to elicit a laugh from the under 14 crowd.
“Was that supposed to be a burp?” More laughter.
“The baby burped!” Even more laughter.
“This is a weird doll.”
“I think it’s cute”
“Is the doll supposed to be breastfeeding?”
“Shhh, just watch.”
“That’s silly, babies don’t eat on top of a mom’s clothes!”
“I like it, can I have one?”
“I want one too!”
“Maybe this doll could teach little girls that breastfeeding is good, right mom?”
“The cute baby is eating the flowers mommy.”
“But mommies feed their babies UNDER their clothes, you don’t have to put something special on to feed them. Moms just use their breasts, right mom?”
“I like the top thing, it’s pretty. Can I have one?”
“I’m hungry, can I have some pretzels?”
The reaction of my 5 children to this doll was quite entertaining. The 3 and 8 year old were convinced it was pretty cool and wanted one. The 10 and 12 year old looked at it suspiciously. The toddler started pulling at the neck of my shirt and signed milk, then please on my chest. Not sure if it was the video or the fact that we were sitting on the couch together but she decided to she had to nurse right then. Their reactions gave me an idea though, I should interview everyone in the family and see what THEY think of the doll and blog about the thing after all.
First up is 3YO Squiggle Bug and the shortest interview ever. Squiggle Bug was breastfed to 22 months when we weaned due to pregnancy complications. It was very sad, she did not want to stop and I expected her to return to the breast once Smunchie was born just 2.5 months later but she never really did though she tried occasionally.
TLB: Hey sweetie, what do you think of that baby doll?
Squiggle Bug: Awwww, it’s a cute baby eating bobbies (her word for breastfeeding). I’m hungry, can I have pretzels.
I was surprised she understood what the baby was supposed to be doing.
TLB: Would you like a doll like that?
Squiggle Bug: *In hysterics.* I want pretzels!
Thus ends the interview and we got pretzels. I never did find out if she wanted a doll like that but to be fair she said she did while we were watching the video and she’s never really cared about dolls at all.
Then there was Lolie. The true middle of our 5 girls, Lolie is 8 years old, a big sister of 2 and very much a nurture. Lolie was breastfed until about 18 months then relearned how to latch 3 months before she turned 5 when Squiggle Bug was born. She nursed occasionally for 3 months before deciding she was too big when she turned 5.
TLB: What do you like about this doll?
Lolie: What I like about it is that the baby makes sounds. It cries “waaaa” and the sucking sounds. It’s like it’s real. I like that there is an apron thing you put on. And I like that it’s clothes are cute and it’s mouth is open. I like that it eats without a bottle, like Smunchie.
TLB: Is there anything you don’t like about the Breast Milk Baby Doll?
Lolie: No. I kind of don’t like that it’s plastic and that it would wake you up at night to eat.
I told her I didn’t think it would wake you up at night to eat and she replied “well, that’s not very real.” Apron thing with flowers for baby doll to “nurse” from is totally believable but not waking at night is what makes this thing unrealistic. What do I know?
TLB: What do you think of the name “Breast Milk Baby Doll?”
Lolie: It’s a cool name, there are breast, it has milk and it has doll and baby. That’s what it is. I like it, it’s hard to explain.
TLB: Do you think it’s ok for little girls to pretend like they have breasts to feed a baby?
It’s worth noting that after I asked this question she gave me the funniest look like I just asked a totally asinine question. She might’ve been right.
Lolie: Yes. (But it sounded more like she was saying “duh” and included an eye roll.) Because you have a baby and it’s ok if you pretend because it’s like you’re a real mom. Real moms feed their babies with their breasts, with breast milk. Little girls should pretend to feed their babies with breast milk and bottles because real moms sometimes do both. I don’t think it’s bad for little girls. Little girls should pretend they are mommies. Little kids should pretend they are mommies and daddies.
TLB: Do you want to be a mommy some day?
Lolie: Uh-huh. Yes.
TLB: How do you think you will feed your babies some day, when you’re a mommy?
Another weird look. Seriously mom, what’s with the stupid questions.
Lolie: I will feed my babies with my boobies. (Again, more like “duh” and this time with a sigh as though she was accepting that her mother is an idiot.) I want to breastfeed.
We chatted for a bit longer about how wonderful breastfeeding is and how she wants to breastfeed her babies. There was also a point where she mentioned that she wanted to let the daddy breastfeed too, not like me not letting daddy breastfeed. It sounded like she thinks I’m really selfish in not sharing the breastfeeding opportunity. Er, yeah. Time to talk about gender differences again it appears.
After Lolie I chatted with Earth Baby who, at 12 years old, was trying to be very philosophical about the doll.
TLB: What do you think of this doll?
Earth Baby: I think it’s cute but kind of strange too. It says that breastfeeding is right. I don’t like that she had to put something over her shirt, why can’t she lift up her shirt? It’s not something that’s part of your body, something attached to her body, like breasts. It’s something she has to add. But it’s good, it tells girls you can breastfeed and it’s good and healthy and you don’t have to be ashamed but it also tells them their body isn’t good enough. I think girls hear that a lot so I don’t like that.
TLB: What do you like about this doll?
Earth Baby: I already said what I thought, can I go read now?
Alrighty then. That interview was over.
Next up is The Storyteller. Ten years old and very outgoing, even though she was breastfed the shortest amount of time of all my children, she is the most outspoken about breastfeeding.
TLB: What do you think of this doll?
The Storyteller: That it’s weird!
TLB: What do you like about it?
The Storyteller: It tells girls that breastfeeding is ok and it’s good for you and it’s the way to a healthy child. And that nothing’s wrong with breastfeeding. I think it’s good practice. So kids can get the feel of breastfeeding. They don’t need a doll to learn how to breastfeed. They should practice feeding their baby in public it’s ok too, it’s ok to breastfeed in public because you’re giving your baby food. I like the movement the doll makes with the mouth.
TLB: What don’t you like about it?
The Storyteller: I don’t like how you can’t… that you can’t… lift up your shirt or something. You don’t have to have the sounds, you don’t have to. Why can’t the baby doll know there’s a real nipple in front of it instead of that thing she put on. The burp was so not realistic, I thought it was funny.
TLB: Would you want one of these dolls?
The Storyteller: It might be fun to play with sometimes. Maybe. I don’t know, I probably wouldn’t play with it. You know what I want? An iPod. Can I get an iPod instead of one of these dolls?
TLB: What? I wasn’t actually offering to get you one of these dolls, just asking if you would want one in theory.
The Storyteller: So how about an iPod? Or if you want to get me a doll I do want a new Waldorf doll with long red hair. Ok?
TLB: So, we’re done talking about this doll I take it?
The Storyteller: No, we can keep talking about it. I really want an iPod…
She went on about an iPod or Waldorf doll for another 10 minutes. You would have thought I’d pulled out my credit card to order the other doll so convinced she was that I was ready to buy one for her.
So then I thought I should ask The Piano Man. After all, he’s the father of 5 girls, what would he think about his children playing with a doll like this? I was particularly interested in his views regarding the perceived potential some news commentators had about oversexualizing young girls are encouraging teen pregnancy.
TLB: What do you like about the doll?
The Piano Man: The only thing I kind of like about it is that it encourages kids to breastfeed their babies. But that encouragement could so easily come from the parents instead without the extra gear and the extra price tag and without electronically produced sounds.
TLB: What don’t you like about it?
The Piano Man: A doll won’t teach breastfeeding. The “lesson for life” doesn’t come from a doll, it comes from seeing it done. It’s also limiting imagination because it does something but it’s limited in what it does. Generally speaking I don’t like dolls that make noise because in play you’re limited by the sounds the toy can make. Gone is your opportunity as a kid to have your baby do other sounds, including silly sounds. I find the whole camisole/apron/tank contraption confusing.
TLB: Do you think a doll like this oversexualizes young girls?
The Piano Man: What? That’s just stupid. How in the world could it do that? Barbie might but not a baby doll that pretends to do what babies REALLY do. Where did you get that idea?
TLB: It’s not my idea. Some news commentators and commenters on articles and blog posts brought it up.
The Piano Man: What’s wrong with these people that they’d even think that? Seriously, what thoughts were going through their heads when they watched the video? My first thought is people that would even think that are messed up. My second is that they don’t have a clue how kids’ minds work and don’t interact with kids enough to really know children. That’s just stupid. I think it’s sweet when our girls pretend to breastfeed their babies, when they do what they see you do. It’s sweet.
TLB: Do you think it’s possible that a doll like this could encourage teen pregnancy?
The Piano Man: *Laughs* Oh yeah, in fact we should ban all dolls because pretending to be a mommy or daddy is going to make kids want to have unprotected sex. Where do these people get these things from? Let’s ban play kitchens too because kids are going to want to hurry and grow up too fast if they pretend to cook. And toy trucks and cars because that 6 year old is going to go try to drive a real car if they play with matchbox cars. No! It’s not going to encourage teen pregnancy! Good grief, want to start a witch hunt for what’s encouraging kids to have unprotected sex? Look at TV, look at the entertainment industry. Or any celebrity, clothing style, video game, or toy that tells girls their worth is in their sex appeal. Let’s look at all the messages we’re sending boys that a woman is only for their sexual pleasure and that somehow they have no control over their sexual urges like men are too stupid to have self-control. And how about parents and the way they do or don’t talk about sex, let’s look there. There are tons of legitimate areas to explore first. Blame a baby doll? That’s pathetic.
At some point a little later The Piano Man and Lolie started talking about the doll. I listened in and jotted down some of their conversation.
The Piano Man: Does mommy have to put anything special on to breastfeed her babies?
Lolie: No, she just lifts up her shirt.
The Piano Man: What do you think of this doll needing you to put something on?
Lolie: It’s ok, it’s just pretending. You have to put it on so the baby knows where to suck. That’s just the way it works.
The Piano Man: Would you like the doll the better with or without the top?
Lolie: I’d like a doll without the top better.
Conversation continued to swirl around The Breast Milk Baby for a few days in our house and I was asked a couple times to watch the video again. It’s been a while now and I haven’t heard anyone bring it up again.
As for my personal thoughts on the doll, I certainly don’t see anything wrong with it and agree with most of the points my family made concerning the doll. The price intimidates me a little only because I wouldn’t be willing to pay $89 for a plastic doll but plenty of people buy $100 plastic dolls for their kids in the form of The American Girl Dolls and those don’t even do anything special. We already spend about that or more on handmade, all natural material dolls (Waldorf inspired) though so it isn’t exactly the cost that I find prohibitive. However, I know that would be a major factor for many families. The doll is a bit odd to me, I don’t like plastic toys, the halter top bothers me and I wouldn’t buy one for me children. Still, I think it’s great to have a doll that helps normalize breastfeeding and for families where plastic toys are common anyway this doll can encourage positive attitudes on breastfeeding from a young age. And not just in girls. Little boys that either play with the doll themselves (I hear people everywhere freaking out at the idea) or at least see their sister or friends play with the doll will have an early precedent set that breastfeeding is just how babies are fed. I don’t see how that could be a bad thing. It’s just how mommies feed their babies. Just like it’s, you know, normal.
What do you think of The Breast Milk Baby? Would you get one for your child? Why or why not?