What do you think of the breastfeeding baby doll?

Claire McCarthy, MD

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

14 thoughts on “What do you think of the breastfeeding baby doll?

  1. My 3 year old – who usually bottle feeds her dollies – told me she wanted to “breast her crying baby” this weekend.  It may have helped that in 100 degree weather, she wasn’t wearing much clothing hanging out at home this weekend, so perhaps that got her inspired.  It was lovely to see her “feed” her doll and say sweet things to it.

  2. Claire – put me in the ‘positive’ response category. The halter seems quite benign and I agree that the normalization of breastfeeding at a young age is the only way we are going to desexualize the process and turn breastfeeding into a healthy normal practice.

  3. I tend to agree that this is creepy, but I know why I think it is creepy.  Children are aware of sexual conduct at a very early age.  Having been around groups of 4-10 yr old boys, I can only imagine some of the comments the unsuspecting girl might hear.  So, do we tell the girls not to play with it in the company of boys?   If we do, we are perpetuating the stigma.  If we hope to be accepting and supportive of breastfeeding, we should assess the “need to know” theory based on the maturity of our children.  When a child asks, “what is that lady doing”, we can explain on a level that suits the child’s curiosity.  When discussing body parts, the feeding aspect can be a focal point as to why we have breasts.   

    1. But isn’t that a function of the fact that we haven’t made steps to normalize breastfeeding?  I guess my lens is altered by the fact that my older brother was in that 4-10 age range when my mother was nursing both myself and my younger brother.

  4. I must admit, I was in that seemingly rare group of viewers with an, “Awww, isn’t that sweet.” response.  When I was 3 my mother was breastfeeding my younger brother.  When my only child was 3-8 months old I had the good fortune to work from my kitchen table while employing childcare assistance in the from of a stay-at-home mom (and her 4 yo daughter) in the condo 2 doors down.  The 4yo would come along when my daughter was brought home to me to nurse.  Her mother reported a few months later that she had discovered her daughter with a doll up to her chest.  The daughter said she was feeding her baby.  Mom said she gave the 4yo a bottle with which to feed her doll.  Secretly I was pleased as punch; the seed was already planted for that 4yo that breastfeeding is how one feeds a baby.

  5. That is weird and disturbing.

    Why don’t we have dolls that wake your kids up 4 times a night and require them to get a job or go to night school, so that they can get their GED.  The doll should require them to take them to shceduled doctor’s appointments.  The doll would require them to put away a good portion of their money so that they can send their doll to college one day.  Maybe, the doll should require them to cancel their playdates because they get an ear infection or RSV.  Let us just keep glamorizing having babies and making it seem like it is no big deal. 

  6. I don’t think this is creepy at all. The halter is fine, I don’t like the slurpy sound, mainly just because that’s more reastic when bottle feeding or using a sippy cup!

    (Warning to those who are easily creepend out, you might want to stop reading here.)

    I breastfed both my children for 1 year, and when my older son was 2 he used to ‘help me’ pump milk for the baby. He loved to push the button on/off and adjust the dial on the pump, and did exactly as I said.

    One night (quite a while after I stopped breast feeding the baby), my oldest was playing the in bathtub. He took 2 toothbrushes with suction cups on the ends, held them up to his little nipples and said, ‘look Mommy, I’m pumping’.

    It was the funniest, sweetest thing he had ever said to me.

    Children just want to model their parents. The only reason, people find this doll creepy is because, sadly is not normal in this country to breastfeed your child.

    And no toy is going to help us.
     
    In most countries in Europe women enjoy over 1 year of paid maternity leave, which allows them to breastfeed as you are supposed to (i.e no ridiculous pump). I realize of course that will NEVER happen here. So instead:

    The only way this will change is if the law mandates that working mothers have the right to express milk as often as they need, for as long as they need in a private, comfortable, clean environment at work.

    I love your blog, disappointed, that this even creeped out Dr. Claire!

  7. Claire, I am a mother who never breastfed her child.  Ironically enough, I am from Europe, where a woman’s breasts are not especially looked upon as sexual attributes.  I grew up going to the beach where 85% of women were topless.  Therefore, “breast exposure” was not a big deal when I saw a woman breastfeeding her child. 

    More disturbingly,  I am troubled with your comment: “But getting children to pretend to
    breastfeed could go a long way toward making it seem normal, not
    sexual.”  “Breasts are sexual to us. It’s that simple.”

    I strongly feel that by constantly pointing out that a woman’s breast is only sexual, you are decidedly perpetrating this train of thought.  It is negative. It starts at home.  I was not raised like this.  We were raised being explained that each part of our body served a purpose.  Consequently, this helped develop a love for Science and Biology. 

    Furthermore, I also find the pressure put on a pregnant woman to breastfeed her child exhausting.  I do not agree with the concept of breastfeeding a 3/4 year old.  However, I do not go around pointing fingers at women who chose to do so and coming up with generalized statements criticizing their choice. 

    While I understand the benefits, it should be a personal choice.  My child was fed with formula and she has had excellent health her entire life.  She is actually training for the 2016 Summer Olympics. 

    Breastfeeding is a personal choice.  I was criticized “heavily” by the breastfeeding coach who came to Lamaze during my pregnancy.  She did not even bother asking “why” or if I had a medical condition that made me choose formula over breast milk.  I found her attitude very simplistic.  Therefore, I made sure to tell future mothers who chose as I did in my class to disregard her condescending and ignorant behavior.  We were not “selfish or irresponsible” mothers-to-be. 

    Please allow children to grow up at their own pace.  Your attitude shape their future behaviors.  Allow individuals to make their own decision.  By all means, present the benefits, however, at the end of the day, it ends with the individual’s preference.  Most of all, stop contributing or assume that all women out there chose to bottle feed because of the “sexual” stigma attached to our breasts.  It is truly silly.

    1. Rebecca, I totally agree that breastfeeding is a personal choice. It has many health benefits, and I do wish more mothers breastfed, but there is way more to parenting than breastfeeding and every family has to figure out what makes sense for them.  And I think I must not have been clear, because I didn’t mean to say that breasts are sexual–I was pointing out that our society thinks of them that way.  I couldn’t agree with you more that attitudes shape future behaviors.

      Congratulations to your daughter.  That is very exciting.

  8. Back in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s they had a doll that you would feed.  She used to wear diapers, and would dirty them after you fed her and then and you changed the doll.  Originally the doll was supposed to be fed a “formula” from a bottle, and they type of diaper you changed depended the powder you mixed with water…..It didn’t market well….for many reasonsthe primary one being that the doll often spit up on your, or as you were pouring the contents of the bottle in the doll, it came right out the other end.  But most of all it creeped people out because it was (for the time period) too realistic.  It didn’t last too long on the market.
    Its the same thing with this doll.  Plus in the video, the mouth looks like something out of a horror film.  We could  take this thread to a new level, but suffice to say, when something is realistic, there’s alot of potential for abuse

  9. I am a mother of two – I have been breastfeeding for close to 4 years now, first my daughter for 3 years and now my 1 year old.  This doll and the video do not bother me.  It is normal to breastfeed.  My daughter, from time to time, pretends to breastfeed her dollies as well.  Why as a society are we disturbed by this natural process?  I find it ironic that we would be disturbed by this notion of little girls breastfeeding, yet there are plenty of people who are not disturbed by completely inappropriate things in our current lives such as kids pageants…little girls, as young as 2 are put on high heels, wearing “sexy” outfits with their hair and make up all done up….think of TLC’s Toddlers and Tiaras.  Now, there is a reason to be creeped out. 

  10. Well, I breastfeed my kids. I still have one 3 year old nursling. I don’t like the bra the girl puts on or the sound effects. I also don’t feel you need to buy a special doll to have a breastfeeding baby. My girls would rarely pretend nurse. They were actually more likely to bring the baby (or giraffe or truck) to me. They would put it up to me and laugh hysterically.

    Side note—I wish you were my pediatrician!!!!!

  11. Claire, I breast fed all 5 of my sons.  My 3rd son had a doll that he played with, and he didn’t know what a bottle was for – he thought it was for watering plants!  He would pretend to breastfeed his ‘baby’ and it was very sweet to see.  He is now 31 & married with 4 healthy (breast-fed) children of his own.  He’s flying Black Hawk’s as a US Army Medi-Vac pilot in Afghanistan.  Clearly his ‘pretending to breastfeed his baby’ didn’t damage his masculinity.  In fact, he is a very caring and nurturing father and tender-hearted human being.

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