San Francisco, CA
Monday, April 04, 2011
A new doll, "The Breast Milk Baby," sold by Berjuan Toys, has come to America along with some controversy. Critics say the doll is over-sexualizing young girls or forcing them to grow up too quickly, but the company and its supporters have said the doll is meant to teach young girls about the nurturing skills they'll need later in life. It is also hoped to inspire more young mothers to take the advice of their doctors and consider the benefits of breast feeding.
Dr. Toy will discuss "The Breast Milk Baby" on The Brynn Project on radio station WCHE, West Chester, Pennsylvania, to be broadcast April 6th (or 7th or 8th). The range is Chester County, Pennsylvania; listen online at www.wche1520.com.
The doll (which sells for $89) allows children to imitate the act of breast feeding by using a special halter top that comes with the toy. The top is made from a colorful material with two flowers positioned where nipples would be. When the doll's mouth is brought close to a sensor embedded in the flower, the baby makes motions and sounds consistent with suckling.
Breast feeding is not only the most natural form of feeding the baby, but also the healthiest, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends breast feeding exclusively for the first six months of life and continuing through the first year. Many who are strong proponents of its essential protective and nourishing value for the baby agree. "The people who complain that this doll is over-sexualizing young girls are themselves sexualizing what is normal and optimal feeding for babies," says Sally Wendkos Olds, author of The Complete Guide to Breast feeding (Workman 4th edition 2010). She adds, "Children who are encouraged to see breast feeding as natural will grow up to offer their own babies the best start in life."
The values of breast feeding continue in Ms. Olds' book, whose research covers a wide range of its important benefits, including strong evidence that human milk feeding decreases the incidence and/or severity of many infectious diseases, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), incidence of insulin-dependent (type 1) and non-insulin-dependent (type 2) diabetes, lymphoma, leukemia, obesity, and asthma. In addition, there are fewer infections, rashes, allergies, and other ailments. Other plusses include babies with improved vision, greater lung capacity, better bones, stronger teeth, and more emotional stability, and yes, better brains. Amazingly, these positive benefits continue well into adult life with reduced cancer risks, obesity, heart disease, and respiratory infections.
The World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend exclusive breast feeding for the first six months of life for all babies and suggest continuing through the first two years. The United States Health Resources and Services Administration has made it a national goal to have at least 75% of all mothers breast feeding for at least six months by 2011.
"The Breast Milk Baby" doll may actually assist to reach that goal by helping to break down the barriers to wider acceptance and promotion of breast feeding as the most loving, healthy practice for a mother and her infant. Certainly it will help open up robust discussion and stimulate debate.
Children who see their mothers feeding their brothers or sisters are naturally curious and want to copy what they see. We encourage parents to provide baby dolls to nurture, diaper, bathe, and feed to prepare them for their new sibling, reduce anxiety and jealously, and offset what might otherwise become unpleasant sibling rivalry.
There have been dolls over time that emulate talking, and all personal manner of elimination, sounds, bottle sucking, walking, dancing, skating, and other activities. Now, the controversy is whether or not this new and innovative doll promotes early sexuality or is somehow not appropriate.
Mother knows what is best for herself and her children, and if she feels comfortable with feeding her infant while her daughter role plays nursing her doll, then why shouldn't they? Spain, and other European countries (probably all the rest of the world) are more receptive to what is natural and supportive of mothers who nurse.
Since the doll was introduced in Spain, in 2009, it has been selling there without hysteria. We might want to rethink our own country's priorities for the health and well being of infants and children.
"Clearly this reflects a problem with how breast feeding is regarded in our country," stated Dennis Lewis, US spokesman for Berjuan Toys. "A hundred years ago, 90% of Americans would have laughed at all this controversy. Breast feeding was considered a normal part of everyday life until the pharmaceutical companies struck gold with the idea of artificial milk in the 1920s. As Americans, we've been duped into believing there's something shameful and taboo about breastfeeding, but the truth is that this idea was created to sell more baby formula.
"The Breast Milk Baby' is a serious product, created by a small family-owned Christian toy manufacturer, whose owners strongly believe in the benefits of feeding babies the natural God given way and who are proud of their beautiful, well made dolls." The late Pope John Paul II stated, "So human and natural is this bond that the Psalms use the image of the infant at its mother's breast as a picture of God's care for man (cf. Ps 22:9)."
Advertisers, and some toy and other companies, have for years, and with varying degrees of controversy, appeared to have sexualized little girls through ads, suggestive clothing, dolls, and other consumer products. Abercrombie & Fitch markets push-up bikinis to girls as young as eight. But, suddenly, when a doll is presented that is not "Barbie," which when introduced also caused controversy but, is now considered safe and acceptable, we find critics in an uproar and upset about the new and innovative breast feeding doll reflecting what nature intended.
Ruth Handler, who first saw the original Bild Lili doll in Germany, fought with her husband over bringing out a doll in the first place that depicted breasts. Fortunately for her, Mattel, and millions of fans (and collectors) around the world, she won the argument. Many little girls around the world find Barbie a doll they can play "dress up" and express fantasy playfulness. Other girls may prefer "Bratz," and still others may choose, "Cabbage Patch" dolls. Many also play with dolls that gurgle or blow bubbles.
Bratz dolls and Barbie dolls have been wildly popular, and also have been the source of huge controversies based on different views about the role of sexuality in play. This new doll that mimics the act of breast feeding has caused some parents and critics to be up in arms, and now the company has to defend itself against accusations of perversion. What does this mean? We are all entitled to our own opinions of course, but honestly, what is really behind the fear and the accusations? Is there not a complex hypocrisy between what is real, natural, and at the same time misunderstood, unknown or feared?
We note that TV shows encourage ads for bras, maxi pads, personal products, many medications, and both programs and ads often show much more than a child can even begin to sort out without sensitive parental guidance.
According to Mr. Lewis, "The whole purpose of 'The Breast Milk Baby' is to teach children the nurturing skills they'll need to raise their own healthy babies in the future. Breast feeding is good for babies, it's good for mommies, and it's good for society. We really don't understand why this has created such controversy. The truth is that we've received overwhelming support online from all over the country. However, about 20% of the messages have been hateful and mean. We're being called perverts and pedophiles for promoting feeding our babies the way God intended? Churches all over the world are filled with images of Mary nursing baby Jesus, and yet we can't imagine letting our daughters learn how important breast feeding is for our society?"
Dr. Toy enthusiastically supports moms who breast feed (and also supports those who choose not to for a variety of reasons) and most of all supports the idea of children learning about what is natural, and healthy, and everyone gaining a better understanding about the great responsibility of being a parent—and all the ways parents care for and nurture their babies. Being part of this experience gives that little girl an appreciation for what she was provided by her parents when she was an infant.
We hope in turn that little girls (and teenagers) will also be learning more about how to provide nurturing to their own offspring in the future, and more fully understand and be ready to assume the responsibility of being parents. That is what play is all about; helping children learn all the roles and practice them while being children so they are well- prepared for the future.
Dr. Toy's Smart Play/Smart Toys helps parents understand all aspects of play and toys from baby to age 12. The book provides guidance on the basics of play, what works for children at each age, and why play and the right toys support positive relationships. This new doll can join an outstanding array of other dolls that provide valuable experience for playing, learning and nurturing.
Dr. Toy plans to evaluate this new doll for "The 100 Best" and "The Best Vacation Products" Award Program for Dr. Toy's Guide www.drtoy.com and will have more to say about this doll and the issues that she has stimulated. Dr. Auerbach welcomes responses that provide more insights into the value of breast-feeding, why mothers agree the doll will provide positive play, and is part of a constructive discussion.
If you think breast feeding is important and like the idea of "The Breast Milk Baby," please "like" the company's Facebook page http://facebook.com/thebreastmilkbaby
© 2011 Stevanne Auerbach, PhD, Dr. Toy, San Francisco, CA
268 Bush St. SF CA 94104 email@example.com
Stevanne Auerbach's Smart Play /Smart Toys (published in 12 countries) is found on Dr. Toy's Guide, www.drtoy.com, the first website on toy information to offer useful, timely guidance for all ages. Dr. Toy was a teacher, administrator with the federal government, and Director of the San Francisco International Toy Museum before focusing on the evaluation of toys and children's products from around the world.
Stevanne Auerbach, Ph.D. /Dr.Toy
San Francisco, CA