"The Breast Milk Baby" Controversy

Admin.Jane

If you haven’t heard, a new doll (i.e. toy for girls) will be introduced to the US market this spring.  Called “The Breast Milk Baby,” it was introduced in Europe in 2009 by Spanish toy company Berjuan Toys under the name “Bebe Gloton” (transliterates to Baby Glutton). The Bebe Gloton version already available at Amazon.

Americans are, to say the least, conflicted about the existence of this doll, much less its marketing to little girls and parents.  Quite a bit of vitriol has been spouted about it, and I really couldn’t understand the the spazz-fest that seemed to surround any mention of it.  There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground in opinion regarding this doll . . . People seem to either love it ecstatically or hate it violently.
Before we go much further, here are some video clips for your your reference (these are the sane ones):
First, the promotional/instructional video from Berjuan Toys:
Next, a news clip from “Good Morning America”:
Third, a talk television clip from “The View,” recorded in 2009 when the doll was introduced in Europe:

For some reason, I can’t embed two different ABC News videos on the same page, so here’s a link to “The View” clip.  Apologies.

I have to admit that when I first heard of this doll, I liked the idea.  The health and bonding benefits of breastfeeding are dramatic and proven.  When I saw the promotional video from Berjuan Toys, I felt a bit ill and was suddenly not nearly as impressed with the idea as I had been.  Why the change?  I wasn’t sure.  How could a doll that promotes something so productive and important as breastfeeding bother me?  How did I swing from the “Yes” side I would have expected to the “No” side that surprised me?  Why is it that when I once saw a little girl pretending to breastfeed a “normal” doll I thought, “How cute!”, but this doll somehow freaks me out a little?  I had to find out why.

An infant breastfeeding . . .
This image doesn’t bother me, 

so why does the doll?

Because I was at a loss within my own mind, I began asking other people and had Admin.Jane put the question up on the “Current Research” page.  I was hoping that by hearing from others, I could nail down why a (child-free) breastfeeding proponent such as myself could be so turned off by this toy.

Since I don’t have any children, I solicited input from the parents of female children.  I felt it appropriate to give people who actually have a child for whom this doll is intended my attention.  Luckily, I was right.  While most of their opinions were strong and clear, they didn’t seem as rabid as other things I’d heard and seen.  I now suspect much of the intensity of the controversy originates in people who don’t have children themselves.

What I found is that, generally, mothers seem to be more in favor of this doll than fathers.  This opinion from one mother is representative of the the responses from most of the mothers:

I completely love the breastfeeding baby for little girls. I am a 54 yr old mother w/ 2 girls that are 23 and 35. When I was getting ready to have my 2nd child my step son was about 10 and when he found out I was going to breastfeed he asked, “Isn’t that illegal?” That’s when I realized just how little breastfeeding is known in our culture and unfortunately people feel more comfortable letting their little girls feed w/a bottle both in private and public. I must admit that I encountered a lot of ridicule when I breastfed my 2nd child in the hospital and the nurses were not supportive at all. They kept telling me that my baby was going to get spoiled etc etc. So I had to fight to keep him w/ me in my room in order to feed him when he was hungry and to keep them from trying to throw a bottle in his mouth. If I were not a really assertive mother I would have faltered. I think that until we normalize breastfeeding as being the standard we will find that most people will be shocked and have discomfort in the presence of the process which is sad. That is why I so strongly support this new doll in a step forward in making that a reality!

These opinions from two mother are representative of the conflict that some parents feel:

I am the mother of two daughters, ages 7 and 3.  I have mixed thoughts about the doll.  I don’t want to push the idea too soon about having babies.  I can also see where it would be a good promoter for breastfeeding as opposed to bottle feeding.  When I was 4 years old I pretended to breast feed my doll while my mom breast fed my baby sister, no harm done.  

I am “Meh” about this toy.  I approve of the toy in general.  I think it does wonderful things about teaching that breast is best and that bottles are not necessary.  However. I disapprove because I don’t care to spend 80-90 bucks on a toy that moves its mouth when my daughter can just pretend to breast feed with any other doll. I don’t like the dolls that provide imagination for a child.  Children will copy whatever mother does anyway.  My kid, she goes to work. My daughter is 3 almost 4 and I am a 40 year old female. BTW, my mother is a lactation consultant and I FIRMLY believe that breast is best!!  Affordable healthcare starts with breastfeeding.  

These opinions from two fathers are representative of negative responses I’ve received from fathers:

I disapprove of the doll because it is absolutely age-inappropriate.  This doll is for mothers-to-be not for children ages 3-10 or whatever.  I am all for this doll’s use for newly-about-to-be mothers so they can orient themselves or achieve a comfort level in breastfeeding prior to them having their baby.  But this doll is not for little girls because it introduces a concept that is too mature for young girls. My daughter is about 9 months old.

I don’t feel it is appropriate to program little girls to believe this is how they should be when they become mothers themselves. I have a 5yr old and 18 yr old.

What I found interesting was that the most intense negative reactions came from the fathers.  One yelled, “Hell no!” when I told him about it, another said, “I can see perverts buying this thing.”  The most common response, by far, from the fathers was that this toy is inappropriate for the age group to whom it’s targeted.  With only one exception, none of the fathers I spoke with had anything at all good to say.  The one father who did have something positive to say about it was fairly strong in his approval, but his intensity was based on the need to breastfeed in general, not on this toy itself. “There is nothing wrong with breastfeeding!” he insisted, daring me to argue with him about it. So many people seem to reduce this to pro- vs. anti-breastfeeding in general, not about a toy that replicates it.

I find the gender lines on this topic striking, and that made me really pay attention to myself while I was trying to figure out why I changed from approval to disapproval (and a bit of disgust) after watching the promotional/instructional video.  Trying to reconcile the academic and the emotional can be tricky, and this was no exception.

I’ll spare you the blow-by-blow of my own mental gymnastics, but I didn’t really understand the root of my own discomfort until I saw a clip of the (edited) instructional/promotional video on television.  That video didn’t bother me. Then it hit me: This particular doll disturbs me because of the graphic sucking mouth and sucking sounds!

I’ve been around breastfeeding babies, and they don’t sound or look like that!  Whatever soft sounds the feeding baby makes, only the mother is close enough to hear, and the baby’s mouth and lips aren’t visible in the way the doll’s are.  Look at the picture above: the lips are wholly in contact with the breast, and the baby is more drinking with a gentle suction than sucking like some monster from the deep!  That doll reminds me subconsciously of some nightmare monster that would eat me alive, so it’s doubly disturbing to me to see a young girl cradling it to her chest.

Sometimes it’s the little things that matter.  So, if you’re a breastfeeding proponent, you might not want to buy this creepy doll for your girl.  The same lessons could be taught by just throwing away toy milk bottles and encouraging your girl to play at breastfeeding, just as the mother above suggests.

~Riot.Jane 

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About

Middle-aged, life-long Texan with a substantial chip on her shoulder.

Posted in culture, education, moms, news, parenthood, taboo
2 comments on “"The Breast Milk Baby" Controversy
  1. Bess Bedell says:

    Im not in favor of, or opposed to this doll and have zero issues with my children playing with a doll like this but I wouldnt spend $90 on it either. In my opinion, it's an over done doll. Why not have some conflicts over baby alive (the baby that poops its diaper)? Kids can easily pretend a baby doll needs a diaper change, and mine do, but there is a very popular doll on the market who will actually soil a diaper. No issues there. Like the baby alive, the bfing doll is another over done, overly animated doll. and though this doll does have a creepy quality to it, I find many other dolls in the toy stores to be equally creepy, but this one has the potential to help normalize breastfeeding.I asked my husband what he thought of the doll, out of curiosity, and his response was that it was weird (particularly the sucking nose) but if it were a normal, reasonable price and our daughters wanted it – he wouldn't say no. To be fair, though, my husband is a strong supporter of breastfeeding and it is one of our family missions to see breastfeeding become more normal and accepted. In the end- I think it is an overdone, unnecessary, slightly creepy, harmless dolls that holds the potential to help kids be comfortable with breastfeeding. It is way too over priced, though. I would buy it for my daughters if it was $30ish.

  2. Riot.Jane says:

    What is it about us (adults) that makes these things creepy to us but not to them (kids)?

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