To add to the growing list of interactive baby dolls that are aimed at young girls, there's now a doll for them to pretend to breastfeed called 'The Breast Milk Baby'. According to the website, it helps them experience the 'magic of motherhood' (minus the colic, mastitis, reflux....) and comes with a special flowered halter top for little girls to wear that activates the doll's suckling mechanism. Bring the doll up to the flower “nipple” and its mouth moves and makes suckling sounds. Yum gulp burp!
Some have argued that the doll should be welcomed as a way of normalising and de-stigmatising breastfeeding to little girls. The theory is is if little girls pretend to breastfeed their dolls, presumably they'll be more likely to breastfeed their own child in the future, a good thing given the UK's low breastfeeding rates.
I agree that there should be no stigma around breastfeeding and mothers should be supported to try breastfeeding their child. Although I sympathise with their argument, I can't help but find the Breast Milk Baby doll a bit creepy.
Before anyone accuses me of finding actual breastfeeding or breast milk creepy, let me quickly state that I don't. My daughter was born premature early last year and I spent two months sitting in a room in the neonatal unit alongside other mothers expressing milk, as well as expressing at home. They saw my breasts producing milk and I saw theirs. I wasn't creeped out at all. In fact, I was relieved that at least I could do something good for my daughter that couldn't be done by the nurses. Unfortunately, by the end of my daughter's stay, I was still so traumatised by the shock of her premature birth that I wasn't even producing enough milk to make a Babybel, let alone feed a baby. After many unsuccessful attempts to breastfeed, my daughter was moved on to formula. That doesn't make me an anti-breastfeeding mum or phobic about breast milk, just an honest mum who did her best during a difficult time.
What I find creepy about the Breast Milk Baby is the way it's website says "Little girls need to learn to breastfeed". Well, I think little girls need to learn to play nicely with other children, respect their elders, and how to mind their Ps and Qs. Do girls really 'need' to learn to breastfeed from the age of just two? My daughter's still pointing at squirrels and shouting 'cat!'. I'm not sure she's ready yet to learn how to get a doll to latch on correctly.
I think it's natural for children to mimic what they see and roleplay. That's all part of growing up. I have fond childhood memories of pretending to be a Thundercat in the back garden. She-Ra, Princess of Power was my girlhood icon. Now as an adult, I role play being a journalist and shout 'For the honour of Grayskull!' when I've sent off an article. I have no problem with role play.
But specifically buy my daughter a Breast Milk Baby doll? I'd rather catch her breastfeeding her Pingu toy. At least then I'll know she's genuinely playing around through her own free will and exploring her imagination, and not because someone thinks she 'needs' to learn to breastfeed in preparation for future motherhood.
One of these Breast Milk Baby dolls is called 'Savannah Dressed for Church', for those times when your little girl has the urge to breastfeed and burp her doll during the Lord's Prayer. They don't, as yet, have a doll called 'Savannah Dressed For the Department Store Coffee Shop but Mummy Was Asked to Leave and Had to Nurse in the Toilet'. I would buy that one for myself, not just to make a political statement (I'm all for mums breastfeeding wherever and whenever they need to), but for the hours of fun I could have confusing the security guards in Debenhams.
Of course, we should keep in mind that dolls like this are never designed for 'children' but only for 'little girls'. Yes, I'm going to say it, feminist chest puffed up in outrage: dolls are sexist! Until someone markets a doll aimed at little boys so they can experience 'the magic of fatherhood', that comes with a miniature BabyBjorn baby carrier that little Johnny can strap to his chest on his way to nursery, then I'm unlikely to change my mind on this.
Interested in another perspective? Read Lisa Watt's piece, 'Breastfeeding dolls for little girls? Anything which promotes breastfeeding is a great idea'