NEW YORK – We have dolls that wet themselves, crawl and talk. Dolls with perfect hourglass figures, and dolls with swagger. And we have plenty that come with itty bitty baby bottles.
But it’s a breastfeeding doll whose suckling sounds are prompted by sensors sewn into a halter top at the nipples of little girls that caught some 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, exactly, 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. He can’t get the dolls onto mainstream shelves more than a year after introducing the line in this country — and blowing O’Reilly and others’ minds.
“We’ve had a lot of support from lots of breastfeeding organizations, lots of mothers, lots of educators,” Lewis said in Orlando, Fla. “There also has been a lot of blowback from people … that either have problems with breastfeeding in general, or they see it as something sexual.”
Just under 5,000 dolls were sold in the U.S. last year. The dolls, eight in all with a variety of skin tones and facial features, look like many others, until children don the little top with petal appliques 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 at the breast.
Little Savannah and Tony, Cameron and Jessica, Lilyang and Jeremiah ain’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.
“With retailers it’s been hard, to be perfectly honest, but not so much because they’ve been against the products,” he said. “It’s more they’ve been very wary of the controversy. It’s a product that you either love it or you hate it.”
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. Breastfeeding in Europe is acceptable and the doll has been successful there. We wanted to open up the opportunity.”
Sally Wendkos Olds, who wrote “The Complete Book of Breastfeeding,” also doesn’t understand the problem.
“I think it’s a very cute toy,” she said. “I think it’s just crazy what Bill O’Reilly was saying that it’s sexualizing little girls. The whole point is that so many people in our society persist in sexualizing breastfeeding, where in so many other countries … they don’t think anything of it.”
Olds called Americans “prudish in many ways.”