Breastfeeding doll that makes suckling sounds labelled 'creepy' by angered parents – but toymaker accuses U.S. of being 'too prudish'
21:51 GMT, 8 November 2012
We've got dolls that wet, crawl and talk. We've got dolls with perfect hourglass
figures. We've got dolls with swagger. And we've got plenty that come with itty
bitty baby bottles.
But it's a breastfeeding doll whose
suckling sounds are prompted by sensors sewn into a halter top at the nipples of
little girls that caught some flak after hitting the U.S. market.
'I just want the kids to be kids,' Bill
O'Reilly said on his Fox News show when he learned of the Breast Milk Baby. 'And
this kind of stuff. We don't need this.'
Inappropriate The Breast Milk Baby doll makes suckling sounds prompted by sensors sewn into a halter top at the nipples of little girls
What, exactly, we don't need is unclear to
Dennis Lewis, the
U.S. representative for Berjuan Toys, a family-owned, 40-year-old doll maker in
Spain that can't get the dolls onto mainstream shelves more than a year after
introducing the line in this country.
'We've had a lot of support from lots of
breastfeeding organizations, lots of mothers, lots of educators,' said Lewis, in
'There also has been a lot of blowback from people who maybe
haven't thought to think about really why the doll is there and what its purpose
is. Usually they are people that either have problems with breastfeeding in
general, or they see it as something sexual.'
The dolls, eight in all with a variety of
skin tones and facial features, look like many others, until children don the
little top with petal appliques at the nipples.
That's where the sensors are
located, setting off the suckling noise when the doll's mouth makes contact. It
also burps and cries, but those sounds don't require contact at the breast.
Little Savannah and Tony, Cameron and
Jessica, Lilyang and Jeremiah aren't cheap at $89 a pop. Lewis, after
unsuccessfully peddling them to retailers large and small, now has them listed
at half price on their website in time for the holidays this year.
Inconspicuous: The dolls, eight in total with a variety of skin tones and facial features, look like many others, until children don the little top with petal appliques at the nipples
'With retailers it's been hard, to be perfectly honest, but not so much
because they've been against the products,' he said. 'It's more they've been
very wary of the controversy. It's a product that you either love it or you hate
Stevanne Auerbach loves it. The child development expert in San Francisco,
also known as Dr. Toy, evaluates dolls and other toys for consumers, lending her
official approval to Breast Milk Baby.
'We felt that it had merit in dealing with new babies for the older child,'
she said, 'and for the curiosity that children have in this area. Breastfeeding
in Europe is acceptable and the doll has been successful there. We wanted to
open up the opportunity.'
Sally Wendkos Olds, who wrote The Complete
Book of Breastfeeding, also doesn't understand the problem.
'People have problems with breastfeeding, they see it as something sexual'
'I think it's a very cute toy,' she said. 'I think it's just crazy what Bill
O'Reilly was saying that it's sexualizing little girls. The whole point is that
so many people in our society persist in sexualizing breastfeeding, where in so
many other countries around the world they don't think anything of it.'
Olds called Americans 'prudish in many ways,' adding the doll offers: 'bodily
awareness. It's realizing that this is OK.'
Lewis blames lack of U.S. sales – just under 5,000 dolls sold in the last
year – solely on phobia about breastfeeding, something widely considered the
healthiest way to feed a baby.
'There's no doubt about that,' he said. 'The whole idea is that there's still
some taboos here. They're difficult to justify and difficult to explain but
they're out there. You mention breast and people automatically start thinking
Janet Jackson or wardrobe malfunctions and all sorts of things that have
absolutely nothing to do with breastfeeding.'
Lewis considers Breast Milk Baby 'very much less sexualized'
than Barbie dolls
or the sassy Bratz pack.
Olds, who lives in New York City, agreed, though she thinks the doll's full
retail price is too high.
'That's my only objection to it. It's a lot of money,
but people spend a lot of money on their children in all sorts of ways.'
Haven't little girls been mimicking the act
of breastfeeding with their baby dolls for centuries without benefit
'Why do we need anything with bells and
whistles Why did we need a Betsy Wetsy Children like toys that do things,'
Olds said, invoking one of the first drink and wet dolls created back in 1935. 'So this doll makes noises. She burps, she cries, she sucks very noisily. Big
Lincoln Hoppe, a Los Angeles actor and
father of five – all breastfed – said a young child who becomes a big sibling
and sees mom nursing might enjoy the doll just fine. 'After all, they're going
to imitate mom anyway using whatever doll they've already got,' he said.
But how about playdates Out in public, he
'It's already hard to tell a child they
can't take 'that' toy with them to their sibling's soccer game,' he said. 'There
may be a time and place for this doll, but I find the idea kind of creepy.'