Shine On

The Breast Milk Baby: Doll that lets young girls mimic breastfeeding stirs controversy

At first glance it looks like any other doll baby — chubby, rubbery, a little glassy-eyed, and swathed in pink flannel. But hold this doll up to a halter top fit with special sensors at the nipples, and the doll begins to emit suckling noises like those made by a real breastfeeding baby.

Meet The Breast Milk Baby, a $90 doll designed to let little girls pretend to breastfeed.

"It is a great way to learn about baby feeding," says Elisabeth Sturken, national director of The Infant Feeding Action Coalition (INFACT) Canada. "And kids learn best by emulating real life in their play activities."

Made by Spanish toy manufacturer Berjuan Toys, the dolls sells in Europe without incident, but here in North America, it's another story.

"With retailers it's been hard, to be perfectly honest, but not so much because they are against the products," Dennis Lewis tells the Associated Press.

As the American representative of Berjuan Toys, Lewis has been surprised by some of the negative attention the doll has received.

"It's more they've been very wary of the controversy. It's a product that you either love it or you hate it." 

The Breast Milk Baby doll manufactured in Spain has caused a controversy in North America. (Breast Milk Baby) 

Also see: Sweden considers banning babies in formula ads

Those who hate it view the doll as sexualizing young girls, and even promoting pregnancy.

"I just want the kids to be kids,"Fox News pundit Bill O'Reilly says of the doll. "And this kind of stuff. We don't need this."

Teresa Pitman, a volunteer La Leche League Leader, has been helping breastfeeding mothers and babies for more than 30 years, and sees nothing problematic about the doll.

"I think that given the fact that the majority of mothers today opt to breastfeed -- over 85 per cent in Canada -- that a breastfeeding doll would make more sense to many than a doll that is fed with a toy bottle," says Pitman.

She says that most children who grow up seeing breastfeeding will naturally lift up their shirts and hold their dolls against their chests to "feed" them.

"I've seen boys as well as girls do that," says Pitman. "We have dolls that do many other things -- sucking on a pacifier or bottle, crying, even soiling a diaper -- so a breastfeeding doll fits right in."

One mother, Aimee Evans, wrote a comment on a New York Daily News story about the doll.

"Little girls do not have boobs. Should not have boobs. Should not be made to feel like they should have them before they do have them, and the idea of giving my 5 year old STRAP ON BOOBS is morally abhorrent."

On the other hand, Evans has no problem with emulating breastfeeding.

"A plain old baby doll works just fine, no special equipment required and no ridiculously huge price tag attached, and no changing my daughter's physique unnaturally before due time."

Would you buy your daughter a doll the mimics breastfeeding? (Breast Milk Baby)Also see: Kenyan mom names twins Barack Obama and Mitt Romney

Plenty of other moms, toy experts and breast feeding advocates feel there is nothing wrong with the doll. They see it as a perfectly natural way to learn about how babies are fed.

"It is the sexualization of breasts and the use of breasts as a marketing tool that is the problem," says Sturken of INFACT. "This sexualization is then transferred to how some people perceive breastfeeding."

She says breastfeeding is rarely seen in public in North American culture, and so is not seen as a normal way to feed babies.

"Formula advertising is massive so that we exist in a bottle feeding culture, hence bottle feeding is perceived as the norm."

The politics of breastfeeding have been getting a lot of airtime over the past year, both at home and abroad.

In Canada, the very nature of breastfeeding was challenged when transgendered breastfeeding man Trevor MacDonald was rejected as a group leader by the breastfeeding support organization La Leche League Canada.

Also see: Transgendered man garners mixed reactions after rejected as leader of breastfeeding group

MacDonald was born a woman and had undergone hormone treatments and chest reduction surgery to transition to being male. Then he and his partner decided they wanted to have a child, which MacDonald carried and then breastfed, with the help of LLLC and a special supplemental nursing system. The LLLC was happy to support MacDonald as a member of one of their Winnipeg chapters, but felt it was inappropriate for him to be a group leader.

And in Sweden, lawmakers are currently considering banning all photos of babies in formula marketing. Under the potential law, ads for infant formula would only be allowed to appear in scientific journals and "publications specializing in infant care," and all baby photos would be banned in these ads, "to avoid idealizing use of the product."

If passed, it will come into effect in August of next year. Critics of the proposed law say it unfairly condemns women who cannot or simply choose not to breastfeed.

Whether it's a breastfeeding doll, a ban on formula advertising, or a breastfeeding man, it's clear that these days, conversations about this natural human act are anything but black and white.

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