Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Keeping Mum: There's no harm in The Breast Milk Baby

The Breast Milk Baby feeds like a real baby. Photo / AP
The Breast Milk Baby feeds like a real baby. Photo / AP

These days mentioning the words 'breast feeding' seems to have the same effect as throwing a lit match onto a pile of gasoline-soaked rags - thanks a lot, Piri Weepu!

But even Piri can't be blamed for the furore surrounding a new doll being marketed this Christmas (that is, the new three month lead-in to Christmas).

The doll - 'The Breast Milk Baby' - can suckle at a specially designed top worn by its owner; contact from the doll on the top triggers strategically-placed sensors, setting off a suckling noise.

The Spanish-made toy has taken a year to hit mainstream shelves in the US, thanks to views that the doll doesn't allow children to be children long enough, or 'creeps parents out' with its realistic milk slurping sound.

Famous right-wing blowhard Bill O'Reilly gave the dolls a marketing boost, ironically, by decrying them on Fox, accusing them of 'sexualising' young girls and saying "we don't need this".

It goes without saying that there is nothing remotely sexual about The Breast Milk Baby - the top with the sensors is just a halter top with little petal appliques where nipples would be. It's not like the plastic baps worn by Robert De Niro in Meet the Fockers or anything. But young girls are routinely sold dolls that are far more sexualised than The Breast Milk Baby anyhow, with Barbie now looking altogether wholesome next to Bratz dolls, for example.

The other thing is that we already have dolls that bottle-feed by the truckload; dolls that wet and dirty nappies and do all sorts of other realistic things. And anyone who has fed a baby around young children will know those children routinely ape breastfeeding (if that is what they see) - although the ones I've seen tend to have a fanciful notion that the milk comes through the belly button (or not so fanciful, if the unfortunate bust droopage that comes through pregnancy is any indication).

The real problem with The Breast Milk Baby is that the dolls are, quite frankly, fugly as. They may come in every ethnicity and skin colour known to man, with lovely little matching names (from Savannah to Lilyang to Cameron and Jeremiah), but they are not the lovely little cuties that many little girls or boys might think of as a new baby. Come to think of it, maybe that's a good lesson too, as newborn babies tend to be a huge disappointment to their siblings when they first arrive - sleepy, often noisy and occasionally stinky to boot.

A mushy, slurpy little alien feeding at your bosom is what breastfeeding is like, especially to begin with, and if little girls want to ape that experience then there seems little harm in it (plenty already do it, without the special sensors). That these dolls stir up quite the negative reaction they do is a sorry comment on the prevailing views of breastfeeding too often found in society at large.

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Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

Read more by Dita De Boni

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