Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Real Trouble With Breast Milk Baby

The controversy brewing over a new breastfeeding doll soon to be sold in the United States reminds me of the bru-ha-ha about Teletubbies when Jerry Falwell accused Tinky Winky of being gay. People rightfully upset about homophobia came to the support of the show, misguidedly defending the goodness of Teletubbies—which was being marketed, falsely, as educational for babies.

Public discourse about Breast Milk Baby is following the same lines. Arguments over the doll are centered on culture wars—whether it is appropriate for young children to witness breastfeeding, imitate it, or even know what it is.

Fox News Pundit Bill O’Reilly worries that it will make kids grow up to soon. The American rep for Berjuan Toys, the Spanish Company making the doll, claims to have God on his side, saying "We’re being called perverts and pedophiles for promoting feeding our babies the way God intended? Churches all over the world are filled with images of Mary nursing baby Jesus. . ." Dr. Logan Levkoff, a sexologist writing for the Huffington Post, is mixed about the doll. “How are kids supposed to make sense of Breast Milk Baby,” she asks, “if the majority of their dolls are missing genitals a la Barbie and Ken?” She’s concerned that without proper education, introducing the doll will fixate children on breasts.

It’s the wrong argument.

The real trouble with Breast Milk Baby is not that it promotes breastfeeding. It’s that it undermines creative play. Like any toy that talks, sucks, walks or what have you—thanks to the wonders of modern technology—the doll robs children of opportunities to exercise their imagination, to truly interact with their toys, and to make their play personally meaningful.

Here’s where I come down: Of course we should, along with the World Health Organization, Michelle Obama, the AAP, and myriad public health organizations, support breastfeeding. Of course children should be allowed to see breast feeding if they encounter it naturally. And of course children should be allowed to pretend that their baby dolls are breast feeding. But they don’t need an expensive doll (suggested retail price: $69.99) specially designed for electronic sucking and sold with a special halter to play about nursing. The toys most useful for children, and the ones that generate the most fun, just lie there until children invest them with life or transform them into something else.

This is World Breastfeeding Week. Let’s celebrate, and speak out all year round for the benefits of breastfeeding. And let’s discourage parents from buying this ridiculous doll. It benefits the toy industry, not children.


  1. Great post.To help support breastfeeding mums.Get tips on boosting your breast.

  2. Such a great point. We don't have string-bean- eating baby; why do we need one for this specific kind of play? On another note, I saw the NYTimes article about your pressure on Scholastic to cut ties with corporate food companies--congratulations!!


    A Friend of Tamar

  3. Thanks Jessica! Great to hear from you. We're thrilled about Scholastic.

  4. Thank you, Susan. Exactly the right point to focus on and I really like how you framed it in relation to culture wars. Diane

  5. Well if we were to buy into the train of thought displayed in this article, then babydolls shouldn't be sold with bottles either. Just my two cents.

  6. I do not believe the opinion expressed in the article is suggesting that bottles or toy other accessories (doll's clothing, etc.) are harmful to children's play (as another poster suggested). What is harmful is the fact that toys that mimic bodily functions act on their own accord. It's especially disturbing in this case in which a baby is supposed to be mimicking a very intimate and private action between an infant and her mother. There are some things, such as bodily functions, that are still considered taboo. Not because we want people to feel ashamed of themselves, but because these things are the dividing line between children and the adult world. We already have dolls that pretend to urinate and defecate and dolls that like to breast feed. The arguments for these things is that it's perfectly natural. Why not dolls that can also copulate or masturbate? Why aren't all dolls anatomically correct? There's a reason why we shield children from the taboo--it's the very essence of childhood. So yes, of course it's perfectly healthy and natural for children to view their mothers breast feeding and even to re-enact this behavior in their play... But marketing dolls that do this for you is the antithesis of natural, healthy behavior. It's just really messed up and wrong, and if you don't understand that then I don't know what else to say right now.

  7. This is an interesting article/discussion; thanks for bringing it up. I’m still kind of on the fence about the issue of the doll. On one hand, no, we don’t have dolls that defecate, get their period, masturbate, vomit, sneeze, copulate, loose teeth, miscarry, or cough sputum, although personally, I wouldn’t compare breastfeeding to functions that either expel waste from the body out of necessity, or that, as far as we know, serve no concrete evolutionary purpose, such as masturbation (no disrespect, of course, to the practice—I fully support it, despite its apparently non-essential nature :).

    On the other hand, I don’t see the doll as offensive (enough) or as having the potential to rob children of their sense of wonder during what should be an innocent time. I will continue to ponder the issue and most likely discuss it with friends, but for now, the American in me keeps coming back to ‘if you don’t like it, don’t buy it’.

  8. Reminds me of when my mother-in-law gave my three year old son a horn for his trike. He took one look, lifted his shirt, put it on his chest and started 'pumping milk' like I did occasionally for his younger sibling. My mother-in-law was somewhat horrified. I was delighted that my son could make that object into a breast pump one minute and a bike horn the next. Who knows what else he might need it to be down the road... The point here is that kids don't need or benefit from toys that dictate what to play or how to play it. With a doll, the wonder comes in the moment when the child's imagination, not batteries or computer chips, makes it come alive.