Have you heard about the breastfeeding doll from Spain?
I was really happy to hear about it. I am a strong supporter of breastfeeding, both as a pediatrician and a mom; I breastfed all of my children, the last three until they were between three and four years old. Yet despite all this exposure to breastfeeding, my kids only wanted to give their dolls bottles. “Don’t you want to nurse your baby?” I’d say to them, and they’d look at me like I had three heads.
I read about it in a blog that included a video of a little girl playing with it. Eager to see how it worked, I watched the video.
I was totally creeped out.
But why, I asked myself, am I so creeped out? After all, she is just pretending to feed a baby. That’s what breastfeeding is: feeding a baby, in the way that babies were theoretically supposed to be fed.
I showed the video to a bunch of people. Only one person (one who has shown himself to be highly enlightened in other ways) had an entirely positive response. One was neutral. Everybody else was creeped out like me, even one colleague who had just finished pumping breast milk when I showed it to her. It was fun watching people’s faces as they watched it on my iPhone.
A few people (my 14-year-old daughter included) said they didn’t like it because it didn’t leave anything up to the imagination. It would be fine, they said, if a kid was just holding a doll up to her chest and pretending to feed it. But the halter with the flower nipples, and the sound effects, crossed a line for them. I have to agree that the halter is the creepiest part of all; there is something that feels Really Wrong about hanging breasts on a kid.
But as one Twitter friend pointed out when I tweeted my feelings about the halter, kids like props. Whether it’s pretend baby bottles or pots and pans for playing kitchen, kids enjoy having something concrete to use in their games. Maybe that’s why my kids looked at me that way when I suggested they breastfeed their dolls: they were thinking that they, um, didn’t have the equipment.
Most people, though, couldn’t quite articulate why they didn’t like the video—they just didn’t like it. “It’s too soon for kids to be doing this,” or “We don’t need to teach kids this at this age,” were comments I heard.
But again: “this” is feeding a baby. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies get only breast milk for the first six months of life, because of the established health benefits for both baby and mom. Currently only a paltry 13 percent of US babies are exclusively breastfed that long. There are lots of reasons for this—the difficulty of working and breastfeeding being a big one—but I think that part of the reason is that as a society we’re just not fully comfortable with the concept.
You hear stories all the time about moms being asked not to breastfeed their infants in restaurants or other public places. It doesn’t matter that a hungry baby is being fed; exposing a breast is considered lewd. The mothers themselves often feel the same way; I can’t tell you how many breastfeeding mothers bring a bottle of formula when their babies have an appointment with me, because they don’t feel comfortable nursing anywhere except the privacy of their own home.
Breasts are sexual to us. It’s that simple.
It’s ingrained in us, I think—even in some avid breastfeeding proponents like me (or I wouldn’t have been creeped out by the video). It’s the messaging we’ve been getting our whole lives. Very few of us grew up around breastfeeding; we are a bottle-feeding society. Breasts are everywhere in the media, but rarely are they attached to a baby.
We’re never going to get our breastfeeding rates up until we get over this. I don’t know if Bebé Glotón is going to do it for us, especially at $118 apiece, and I am never going to like that halter. But getting children to pretend to breastfeed could go a long way toward making it seem normal, not sexual. And if it seemed normal to them, they might be more likely to breastfeed or want their partners to breastfeed when they grow up.
And that would be a very good thing.
Based on her blog, Dr. Claire was asked to discuss the topic further with New England Cable News