Just in time to celebrate World Breastfeeding Week, The Breast Milk Baby doll is hitting store shelves in America.Created by a Spanish toy company, Berjuan, and launched in Europe in 2009 as an alternative to the traditional baby dolls that come with bottles, the doll is being advertised as “the world’s first breastfeeding baby” toy.Designed to mimic and promote breastfeeding an actual baby, Berjuan’s interactive doll cries to signal that it is hungry. While wearing a special bib festooned with floral patches to represent nipples, the child places the doll’s mouth against a flower to signal suckling noises. After the doll is finished “feeding,” the child must pat the baby until it burps.While the doll seems to touch on a hotly debated mommy topic of bottle-feeding vs. breastfeeding, not to mention the ever-present debate against forcing girls into gender roles, the real controversy over this toy seems to be between moms who are embracing the doll as a great teaching tool and those who are outraged that it’s taking pretend playtime to a place that is too realistic and mature for young children.
If you thought Barbie bore the brunt of angry parents, you ain’t seen nothing yet!Back in March, Bill O’Reilly criticized the doll on his Fox News show and shortly thereafter, an “Against ‘The Breast Milk Baby’ Doll” Facebook page sprung up. It has become a sounding board for concerned parents, like the page creator, Dale Michelle. While she supports mothers’ rights to breastfeed in public, she argues the doll will confuse children at a time when they’re being taught to respect their private parts. She fears it will encourage “acceptance that ‘playing’ with their breasts, or lack thereof, is normal.”Michelle isn’t alone in her disapproval. Many moms have chimed in on her Facebook page. Jennie Wilmot wrote, “What’s next, a doll giving birth? Let your children be children, and stop making them grow up so fast.” Cassie Brown Bruce wonders, “What mother would really buy this doll for their baby girl? So wrong!” And Nichole Magnuson added, “I just wish they would think about the children and long-term psychological effects this is going to have on them.”According to family therapist Rachel Sussman, these moms have some cause for concern. Sussman thinks the Breast Milk Baby may make girls hyper-aware of their bodies. She worries the doll will compel girls to take note of “the size of their mothers breasts compared to their own and then at too young of an age, they’re going to want to develop breasts.”However, not all experts agree. Sharon Lamb, Ed.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and author of “Packaging Girlhood” and “Sex, Therapy, And Kids,” thinks the idea that the Breast Milk Baby doll will have negative psychological ramifications is ridiculous and so is all of the media attention the doll has been getting. She thinks the controversy has been trumped up “because journalists are desperate for stories about parent panic.”Lamb sees no reason why parents should be concerned about their children’s curiosity, pointing out that it’s perfectly natural for a child to pretend to nurse any doll. “Little girls and little boys like to play at parenting, and nursing is interesting to both of them,” she says. “I wish that Americans would get over their view that nursing is a sexual event.”And the doll isn’t without its share of supporters. While Michelle’s “Against ‘The Breast Milk Baby’ Doll” Facebook page has just 259 “likes,” a Facebook page in support of the doll boasts almost 9,000 “likes.”Fan Lisa Howard Hartmann wrote on the Facebook page, “Finally, something we could give a little girl that doesn’t objectify her. That is what our breasts are for. Not to sell beer and cars.” Supporter Kylie Menagh-Johnson admitted, “My daughter already wants this… It’s wonderful to see something more realistic and natural.” Kiel Landers posted a photo of her little boy breastfeeding a Cabbage Patch doll adding that someday he “will be one incredible partner and father!”Whether you are for or against The Breast Milk Baby doll, toy maker Berjuan is milking the controversy to get the word out about its product. One of their representatives even recorded a tongue-in-cheek YouTube video response to Bill O’Reilly’s criticisms of their product.However, in this recession, there may be an even bigger hurdle for the Breast Milk Baby toy—it comes with an $89 price tag.