'Breast Milk Baby' Coming to U.S. Market

Controversial toy allows children to imitate the act of breast-feeding.

July 18, 2011, 12:10 PM

July 18, 2011— -- A controversial doll that allows children to imitate the act of breast-feeding is coming to America. Berjuan, the Spanish company that makes the toy, last week announced plans to bring "Breast Milk Baby" to the U.S. market, starting with the ASD trade show in Las Vegas July 31.

The doll, which comes with a special halter top with two flowers positioned where nipples would be, makes suckling sounds when its mouth is brought close to sensors embedded in the flowers. But breast-feeding experts and moms are torn on whether the toy is natural, useful or disgusting.

Critics say the doll can over-sexualize young girls or force them to grow up too quickly.

"I heard people talking about it but, honestly, I thought it was a joke," said Ilina Ewen, a writer for Deep South Moms and her own blog Dirt and Noise.

"There are just things that I think kids are too little to understand," she said. "Let kids use their imagination and play with a doll and not deal with what it can do… There's no need to turn it into something that's anatomically correct. Not at this age."

But the company and supporters say the toys can help teach young girls about the nurturing skills they'll need later in life.

"Breast-feeding is completely natural," Cesar Bernabeu, director of sales and marketing for Berjuan, wrote in an e-mail to ABCNews.com.

Bernabeu said the toy allows children to imitate their moms -- a natural part of growing up.

"We realized that the reaction was so positive with the girls when they were imitating their moms and saw that they react to the doll like it was a little sister," read Bernabeu's remarks, translated from Spanish. "Their faces of happiness said it all."

"I can't believe what upsets people," said Jessica Gottlieb, a mommy blogger and mother of a "school age" boy and girl.

Gottlieb has seen her own daughter mimic breast-feeding after watching her nurse her infant son. She thinks all the talk about how the doll sexualizes children says a lot about society.

"That they [critics] would jump from a breast-feeding doll ... that you would take a child feeding and would automatically sexualize it says more about you than the doll," she said. "It's a doll. If you don't like it, don't buy it."

Even pediatricians, child development specialists and toy experts can't agree on whether the doll would be healthy for young girls.

"My take is that anything which reminds young girls that their bodies are something other, and more, than sex objects, is a very good thing," said Dr. Ronald Cohen, medical director of the Mothers' Milk Bank in San Jose, Calif.

"On the other hand, encouraging young girls to want to have babies at a very young age may not be so great," said Cohen, who is also the director of the intermediate intensive care nursery at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford University.

But mom-blogger Carrie Lauth doesn't see a difference between encouraging adult play with a toy stroller or toy bottle and encouraging adult play with a breast-feeding doll.

"It's definitely something I would consider buying for my daughters because I've purchased in the past items that mimic what I do, like little baby slings for their dolls," said Lauth, a writer for Natural Moms Talk Radio.

"I think it's a fantastic idea, I don't understand why it's a controversy," she said.

That line -- where playing parent meets the reality of parenting -- seems different for each expert, too.

Psychologist Jay Reeve, CEO of the Apalachee Center in Tallahassee, Fla., said Bebe Gloton's realism goes too far.

"Of course, children have played 'parent' with dolls for centuries, but this new twist seems to focus not on what babies are like as much as jump-starting a focus on breast-feeding," Reeve said. "I'm always a little disturbed by toys, games, or products that have the impact of accelerating childhood identification with being a full-blown adult."

Yet toy expert, professor and author Diane Levin, said the problem with the doll isn't the breast-feeding. Levin has a problem with any toy that limits the play to a single activity.

"It's not good for children to have everything structured for them," said Levin, co-author of "So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids."

Levin has witnessed girls pretending to breast-feed dolls -- especially after seeing their mothers nurse siblings -- and thought it perfectly natural. But she said play, including boys playing soldiers, needs to be spontaneous and initiated by the child.

"As kids get used to instructive toys, they need more structured toys," Levin said. "We take the creativity away."

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