Thursday, May 13, 2010

Are breastfeeding dolls a sign of the apocalypse?

Today I was catching up on a new blog I've started reading.  One of the recent posts was written by a guest, and showcased 10 seriously inappropriate toys for kids.  Browsing through selections number one through nine I went back and forth on whether I truly believed these were real toys, and not made up by some sick personality.  They really were that bad.

Then I got to number ten: a breastfeeding doll.

Wait. Really? A breastfeeding doll is being lumped into the same category as a cigarette-rolling kit and a unicorn with a penis and balls as it's "horn"?

I checked out the linked video, which promised to be so offensive and horrible and WRONG, figuring I must be missing something. Nope.  It's a doll, it comes with a halter top the girl can wear, and then the baby can suckle at her chest.

Now, I realize that since breastfeeding is still considered very taboo by large sections of our population (yes, even today-- shocking, isn't it?) the idea of a young girl pretending to breastfeed might be a little uncomfortable at first.  We're just not used to it.  But as I thought about this blog post (and the subsequent comments, which pretty much all agreed that a breastfeeding doll was just about the most horrible and creepy thing ever), I remembered all the stories I've heard of moms breastfeeding their younger child, and how older siblings will see this and pretend to breastfeed their dolls.  Just as they pretend to do so many other tasks they see us parents do-- change a baby's diaper, sweep the floor, wear our shoes, etc.

So... why is this so disturbing?  In the era of "breast is best" why do so many people have such a visceral reaction to a child imitating this natural act?  And what does that say about our attitudes about breastfeeding in general?

What I came up with is that we still have this idea that breastfeeding is, at some level, a sexual act ( know, b/c it involves boobs).  Therefore, letting young kids pretend to breastfeed is wrong, icky, almost pedophilic in nature.  Nevermind that the girl is fully clothed the entire time.

And I started thinking more about this, and all the other body parts that are involved in sex that are also used in completely non-sexual acts.  For example, the penis.  Men use their penis for sex, and also to pee.  Does that mean that teaching your 2 yr old to use his penis to pee into a toilet is somehow a sexual act, or inappropriate/obscene?  Clearly, no.

Another example: the mouth. Mouths and lips play big roles in sexual activity, from kissing to oral sex.  Does that mean that other uses for your mouth-- like talking, or eating-- are also sexual?  Is a child who sucks his thumb performing an obscene act?  Again, no.

So why can we not separate the sexual vs non-sexual roles of breasts and nipples?  Why can we not realize that there is NOTHING SEXUAL WHATSOEVER about breastfeeding a baby (or a toddler, or whatever age you choose to breastfeed to)?

(I could also go into the double-standards of being so disturbed by a fully-clothed child holding a baby to her chest to "breastfeed", but not batting an eyelash at an infant girl dressed in a skimpy bikini... but I'm thinking that's a whole other blog post)

The thing is, as long as people still see breastfeeding as sexual, obscene, or just plain "icky," there will be huge barriers in place for mothers who attempt to breastfeed their children.  I realize some or even many of you may not agree with me on this post, and I'm taking a risk by writing it.  But it's only by talking about these things and (hopefully) getting even a few people to think differently, that anything changes.  And things have got to change.  It is ridiculous that women are being kicked out of restaurants, airplanes, and pools for breastfeeding (sometimes even when they use a cover).  It is ridiculous that moms choose to feed their babies formula bc they feel otherwise they'll be trapped in their homes for that first year, unable to feed their babies in public (this is not the only or even main reason parents choose formula, but I do think many women weigh in the barriers against breastfeeding in their decision not to breastfeed, or their efforts to do so are de-railed because of them).  It is ridiculous that women can parade around in a low-cut top with no problems, while a mother can't feed her baby without being harassed or shamed.  Especially considering recent findings that breastfeeding saves lives (and no, not just in 3rd world countries... here in the US, too).

I think the perfect way to end this post is by linking to another post, a beautiful piece at PhD in Parenting listing 50 Reasons for Breastfeeding Anytime, Anywhere.  Read it. Save it. Pass it on.  And yes, breastfeed.  However it is YOU (not anyone else) feels comfortable doing so.


  1. I'm convinced it's because men do not have breasts and therefore cannot separate the sexual from the other uses.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with you! Fantastic post!

  3. I agree - fantastic post! I have to say that one of my proudest moments as a mother is when G started imitating my nursing with her own dolls! I love setting that example for her and seeing her "get it". : )

  4. Anonymous6:15 AM

    First of all, that blogger can't tell Spanish from Russian, which is pathetic enough. Secondly, the only thing that's wrong with breastfeeding is that it's not done more often and more publicly. Perhaps if we all got out there and busted out without shame, it would help change perceptions. If/when I have a daughter, I'm getting her a breastfeeding doll, even if I have to go to Spain to get it. How lovely to see a little girl learn to be so nurturing at a young age. Maybe they should use those babies in teen parenting courses!!

  5. Sheesh. I was GLAD when Angelina pretended to breastfeed - in this case not a doll, but her baby brother - it meant she finally gave up on the bottle idea. When he was first born she kept insisting he needed a bottle and she even wanted to read stories "about the baby bottles" (Dr Sear's 1-2 pages on bottlefeeding). Now, she's all about the breast and I say yay! I wouldn't have minded a breastfeeding doll, and I was starting to look for some books that talk about baby sibling being breastfed instead of bottle fed, but she finally got the message.

  6. Ok so, what I'm hearing is, there is nothing strange about a little girl strapping fake breasts to her chest, and holding a doll to them?

    To me, there is NO issue with a little girl playing pretend. They play house, they play marriage, they play baby. And sure, if they want to pretend feed their baby dolls, more power to them. It's a natural part of life. But what is disturbing to me about this toy (me who is working diligently on breastfeeding my 7 week old daughter, first child), is that there needs to be a doll designed, complete with little strap on boobs, for this purpose?

    I guess I'm missing part of this motherhood thing, but what I want for my daughter is for her to stay a child. I don't want her strapping on fake breasts at 4 years old, when she really does not even know anything about the process of becoming a woman, and feeding a doll whose ENTIRE purpose is to make sucking noises. This isn't a "baby" that does anything BUT suck. This isn't her playing pretend with her dolly's, mothering them and then going there on her own. This is "hey little girl, strap on fake breasts and feed this kid because you're a woman and that is what you do".

    And the video? I'm sorry but it is weird and creepy. The baby with it's painted on face, big shocked eyes and weird sucking noises? There isn't a lot natural about that. At least not from my experience. My child interacts, she closes her eyes, she cuddles up and she doesn't sound like a mechanical pig when she's eating.

    I for one find this an inappropriate toy for MY specific child. Sure, it's not in the same caliber as a set of exacto knives or a cigarette rolling kit, and I get that but, it's still not something I want to see showing up at her 4th birthday party.

  7. Genina11:04 AM

    My Post on MY "top 10 inappropriate toys for kids" was meant to be a joke, nothing more.

    I don't disagree with little girls playing "breastfeed" the baby, I disagree with the strap on nipples.. I find that in the video she looks a little uncomfortable. Breastfeeding is totally natural and a beautiful part of life but I don't sit and STARE while my friends do it, so to sit and stare at a video of a young girl strapping on fake nipples to BF her electronic doll was a little more than awkward, for me anyways.

    Also, the site where I found the doll said it was "Russian". Sorry I didn't Google translate that, how pathetic of me.

    Like I said, it was supposed to be humorous blog, sorry you didn't see it that way.

  8. Babe_Chilla-- Maybe I misunderstood the blog post and comments. Do you have a problem with all baby dolls then (since they all tend to have those odd painted faces)? All dolls that are designed for a single, specific purpose (like dolls that pee)? Dolls that are animated? All dolls or toys that tell kids to do something "because that's what women do" (like playing house or pretends cooking, or just playing "mommy" at all)?

    Would you think it was disturbing if you saw your daughter pick up a doll and pretend to breastfeed it? Or is that ok?

    I assumed all the vitriol was over the fact of a little girl breastfeeding a doll. Maybe I was wrong in that. Personally, I would never buy that doll, either, but that's b/c I see no point in spending money on single-purpose toys (I'd rather my kids used imagination and more open play). As for the "breasts" top, if it were flesh-colored and padded, ok, that'd be odd, or even if it looked like an actual bra. But it honestly just looks like a tank top to me. (but again, maybe I missed something there, too) If THAT was the objection everyone had, then I totally misunderstood and apologize. But I got the distinct impression that what was so shocking and creepy was the act of breastfeeding itself.

  9. Genina-- Most of the post was quite humorous, and I do get that. It's just that there are certain issues where you work so hard to fight against cultural stereotypes and barriers, that sometimes the jokes aren't that funny.

    (And I'm not saying it's yours or anybody's job to make sure not to offend people. You have every right to write your post, and have people enjoy it, just as I have a right to write this one. I'm not taking it personally or viewing anyone as a "bad person" for feeling or reacting they way they do, I just took this as an opportunity to speak up about something)

  10. I personally have no issue with her breastfeeding the doll, not sure if anyone else does. Like I said if she just went there with a doll on her own, I wouldn't think twice. It's the strap on breasts and the fact you're giving a child a doll and saying "here breastfeed this". Why do we need to dictate their play? Or encourage them to play mommy? Won't they do that on their own? Shouldn't we let them?

    And, if there is nothing to the strap on breasts and they are just a tank top, then WHY would they be part of the toy? What's the point? What's the purpose? Doesn't it remove the element of just pretending, requiring her to strap on breasts? Or from your perspective a tank top, which is teaching her what then? That's not realistic? If you want to be real, she should have to take her shirt off, since I've barley worn one in 7 weeks (and OBVIOUSLY I am not advocating that, I'm just saying).

    And I really don't appreciate you insinuating I have any issue with breastfeeding at all. I've been doing it all over the city and in front of family and friends for 7 straight weeks. If my daughter wants to play that, then she can. But not with strap on breasts, and not with a doll whose SOLE purpose is to encourage her to do that. Maybe if we were trying to learn about breastfeeding, I would see the need/point of this. Otherwise, can't kids just be kids.

    And I do in fact have issue with dolls who pee and such, but this is because my little sister used to have these kinds of dolls and actually stress out about them. So that's my own personal experience, and I won't ever give my child one of those either. But, again, more from a weird experience.

    And you start your comment with asking me if I have issue with dolls designed for a specific purpose, then end with saying you wouldn't buy this either because you prefer them to use more imagination and open play? Are we not then saying the exact same thing?

  11. Babe_Chilla-- I'm sorry if my comments sounded hostile. That was no my intent. I was trying to figure out what you meant, because I thought I was misunderstanding something (and I was).

    I think we agree on a lot of things. I don't like toys that have a single specific purpose, either (I think they're a waste of money, would rather my kids used their imagination with more general toys-- like a doll they can pretend sucks and pees, etc). I don't agree with pushing toys or activities on kids, either. I wasn't asking those questions to sound accusing or anything, I was trying to figure out what it was about the doll that bothered you, if the objection was to the BREASTFEEDING aspect of this doll or if you're equally against other, similar toys that have only one specific use (which, unfortunately happen to make up the vast majority of the toys available today... *sigh*). on the other hand, I may not personally buy this doll for one of my kids, but I *am* glad to see it on the market. When every other baby doll comes with a bottle, and single-use toys are sold and marketed for everything else under the sun, it's nice to see *something* that's pro-breastfeeding.

    The reason I wrote this post was that when I read the original post & comments everyone seemed to be so creeped out by the doll and the fact that the girl was breastfeeding it. I didn't realize that apparently no one had a problem with the breastfeeding part of it, but rather with the fact that the doll was animated and that it came with an additional piece of clothing. That's my bad. I'm sorry.

  12. Anonymous9:04 PM

    At what point did the breastfeeding doll become sexual? Hadn't even thought of it that it just creeps me out even more.

    No one commented on Genina's willingness to buy the stripper pole baby. That is way more disturbing.

    -Family Sized Fun's Husband, Boom Boom

  13. I don't like buying dolls period, and I'm all about imaginative play, but I'd have at least looked into this as a way to explain to my 3.5 yo daughter how babies were fed, since she didn't remember breastfeeding for 2 years, and EVERY thing about babies out there (books about younger siblings, dolls, etc) came with bottles. I was getting desperate because she was getting really frustrated that she couldn't feed the baby a bottle and "Why does mommy have to take him all the time, it's MY turn?!" So, as a learning tool, I'd have considered it. She eventually figured it out though, so all's ok now.

    Now, she talks all the time about "big boobs" - how she doesn't have them, how she wants them. Not for any sexual reason, but because she wants to feed the baby too. If it was to be like some model I'd be bothered, but as it's because she wants to nourish a baby, I think it's great. Fortunately, now she's starting to equate it with being a mommy so she's progressed to understanding "boobs = becoming a mommy," which is ok by me :)

    Oh, and my 5 month old makes great pig sucking noises when nursing. Cracks me up how loud he is sometimes.

  14. I'll also add that our friends in Switzerland had a doll from Spain that gave birth - hard to describe how it worked,but it wasn't creepy, just accurate (more or less). Our 6 yr old friend LOVED it. If A had a difficult time understanding the birth process, I might have looked for it as a way to educate her - we were preparing her for the homebirth - but she enjoyed watching the water birth DVDs and learned enough from that. No reason to hide the labor/birthing process from a child. it doesn't diminish her childhood, it's not an "adult only" thing. It's beautiful and wonderful and she loved it (ok, so she REALLY loved having the "pool" inside the house). She does often ask me to put the baby back in my tummy though so she can help him be born again.

    So, as teaching tools, I can see the value of such toys.



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