Breast-feeding doll catches flak in U.S.; will it ever catch on?
A baby doll whose suckling sounds are prompted by sensors is raising both eyebrows and praise.
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — 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 breast-feeding doll whose suckling sounds are prompted by sensors sewn into a halter top at the nipples of girls that took 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."
What people 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 breast-feeding organizations, lots of mothers, lots of educators," said Lewis, in Orlando, Fla. "There also has been a lot of blowback from people ... (who) either have problems with breast-feeding in general, or they see it as something sexual."
The dolls, eight with a variety of skin tones and facial features, look like many others, until children don the little top with petal appliqués 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.
The dolls 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.
Critics cite an unspecified yuck factor, or say it's too mature for children. But 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. Breast-feeding in Europe is acceptable and the doll has been successful there."
Lewis blames lack of U.S. sales — just under 5,000 dolls sold in the past year — solely on phobia about breast-feeding, something widely considered the healthiest way to feed a baby.
"There's no doubt about that," he said. "(But) 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 breast-feeding."
Lewis considers Breast Milk Baby "very much less sexualized" than Barbie dolls or the sassy Bratz pack.
Haven't little girls been mimicking the act of breast-feeding with their dolls for centuries without benefit of accouterment?
"Why do we need anything with bells and whistles? Why did we need a Betsy Wetsy? Children like toys that do things," said Sally Wendkos Olds, who wrote "The Complete Book of Breast-feeding," invoking one of the first drink-and-wet dolls created in 1935. "So this doll makes noises. She burps, she cries, she sucks very noisily. Big deal."