Editorial: Nursing baby doll sending kids the wrong messages

The Breast Milk Baby has hit U.S. shelves.

One of the newest innovations in the baby-doll world, the Breast Milk Baby was released Friday by the Spanish toy company Berjuan Toys.

The doll cries and burps like any other doll, but there’s one feature that sets it apart.

The baby doll comes with a halter top for girls to wear that have sensors over certain points on their chest. When they hold the doll’s mouth to this area, the doll makes a suckling sound as if it is breast-feeding.

Other baby dolls cry, take a bottle and can soil their diapers. Little girls know how to make the baby doll stop crying and how to change the diaper. Children can push their doll around in a miniature stroller, pretend to put the baby to sleep and care for the baby like it’s a real child.

The Breast Milk Baby expands the characteristic nurturing of an infant that comes naturally to young girls playing with dolls. This realistic doll almost takes this idea too far.

In robotics this is called the uncanny valley. To a point, non- human objects — trees, robots, animals, etc. — get more sympathetic as they near humanity. Once they reach a certain point their likability plummets (think zombie, or Terminator).

Something about a robot baby doll sharing one of the most intimate acts of humanity with a child — even in play — makes the skin crawl.

Furthermore, the doll suggests little girls are locked into learning to be a mother.

This particular baby doll comes with the slogan “The magic of motherhood.”

If all toys were banned that encouraged behaviors that reinforce standard gender roles, then children wouldn’t have many toys to play with. But there is a vast difference between teaching children the responsibility of caring for something or letting them play with “girl toys” and teaching children to become mothers.

While many of them will eventually grow older and will become mothers, other little girls will not.

Being a mother is both a great honor and a great responsibility and it should not be taken lightly or accepted as an inevitability. The message this doll sends little girls is that they are expected to learn to breast-feed and be a mother, which comes as a result of pregnancy, which comes as a result of sex.

In addition, another slogan for the doll is “just like Mommy.” Many little girls might not have ever seen breast-feeding, let alone understand the changes that occur during pregnancy.

The target audience of this doll is too young to be able to experience the magic of motherhood or need to even learn to be mothers at that point.

They’re children and should enjoy being children without having to learn all the responsibilities of motherhood — even breast-feeding.

Breast-feeding is a widely accepted form of nursing a baby and is arguably best for the infant.

The problem we have here is not with the act of breast-feeding, but with the age that children are expected to act like mothers. Parents are free to teach them when they will, but it should be done with the same care and love that befits the act.

In America, the curriculum for the typical sex education course does not start until fifth grade at the earliest and it almost inevitable in the sixth and seventh grades. So a child who would own this doll would most likely be younger than the typical age for sex education. The only other place she would receive any knowledge of what her pretend actions with the doll are actually symbolizing would come from her parents or guardians.

The parents or guardians that would purchase this doll for their child must be ready to answer all of the questions their little girl will ask. She’ll take the doll and play with it. She’ll pretend to breast-feed it although she might not understand what her actions are. She’ll ask questions and expect answers.

Are you, as parents, ready to answer those questions?

What then?

Will she learn that this is all that is expected of her in life? Will she see no other option, or be so eager to bear children that she makes a rash decision before she is ready?

At some point, the little girls will need to learn about their bodies and the changes that occur. However, this baby doll is targeting an audience that is much too young to even begin to comprehend the joys and trials of motherhood.

Instead of being conditioned, let her decide for herself when she is ready to commit to motherhood.

The qualities of nurture and care are good qualities to have, but introducing the little girls to this very personal form of nurture is premature.