We already have dolls that pee, poop, cry, and eat from a spoon but apparently, that’s not enough reality for our children. Newly available in the U.S. is the breastfeeding baby doll. Activated by a special halter top with strategically placed flower appliques, the doll begins to suckle when it is brought close to the chest (although, I suppose it would try to suckle your head if you stuck the halter top on it).
Opinion is divided on whether a breastfeeding baby doll is a good idea, bad idea, or just kind of dumb. Proponents of the doll like its educational component, believing that it demonstrates a healthier way to feed babies and also demystifies a perfectly normal bodily function. The point has been made that most baby dolls are packaged with bottles, which makes bottle feeding the de facto norm. Opponents of the Breastfeeding Baby are concerned that this is yet another instance of pushing children to grow up too fast. Some claim that it also has sexual connotations and might encourage early pregnancy.
There certainly is room for debate about this product. Apart from the specific merits (or lack thereof), I have the same problem I always have with these one-trick ponies: they’re imagination killers. Having a doll that does nothing opens the way for it to do everything. Introducing a gimmick tends to define the entire play experience. I have visions of a little girl standing in front of a shelf full of dolls trying to decide whether she’s going to play poop, pee, or suckle. Seems to me the whole idea of a baby doll is to stimulate nurturing, exploration, bonding, creativity. Difficult to bond with a sack of excrement. And while the whole suckling thing is likely to get boring pretty quickly, you can’t do much else with the doll because it just cries when it’s not being tended (fed or burped). I’m definitely in the Breastfeeding = Good camp, but I’m not sure this $90 toy is worth buying for a message that can be taught by example and by (gasp) communication with your child at the appropriate time.
And what about boys? Are they to be left out of the whole experiential opportunity? Or are we a few short months from a toy that encourages exploration of other natural functions? Oh please, oh please, don’t let my brain go down that road.
On a Related Topic…
Breastfeeding Baby reminded me of a doll I saw in a toy store in the early 1990s. It had “bones” inside and was very heavy. The idea of a baby doll with bones really amused me, for some reason. So when I was reading about the breastfeeding doll I also did a little research on the bone doll. Called Baby Feels So Real, it was made by Tyco. I found a whole discussion about the doll among people who wanted to reconnect with their childhood favorite. Apparently, BFSR (Baby Feels So Real) underwent several iterations. The bone model that I remembered was a later, more refined product that even had a soft spot in its head (eww). Prior to that, the doll was filled with gel to obtain the heaviness but had no interior structure. According to comments in that thread, the gel design was somewhat flawed. I quote from a couple (you can read the full thread):
I don’t remember my doll having a soft spot or a plastic frame inside — she was just all gel and really heavy, so if you flung her at someone, it totally hurt.
When I was growing up I had a baby feel so real in the early eighties. She had short blonde hair and was filled with gel. I remember I left her out in the sun and she popped!!!
Nope… no skeleton. On a winter trip to Grandma’s, she ended up riding in the trunk (thanks, Dad)…. so not only did I cry for 2 hours, but when he finally pulled over & got the doll- she had *GASP* frozen solid & was squished & deformed….. I was horrified!!!!
Sound to me as though BFSR may have provided concrete starting points for a lot of adult psychological therapy.