Pretend Play to the extreme: Breast Feeding Doll

Last month, I told you about the Breast Milk Doll coming to America.  Having spent the last few weeks looking at dozens and dozens of new toys (this is when the motherlode of toys arrive for review), I’ve spent some time thinking about this uber literal pretend doll.

It’s interesting that that doll has gotten so much press (I’ll be part of segment on the Weekend Today Show tomorrow morning).  Anytime you have something to do with breasts, people pay attention. Especially when the global news is really too depressing. A good toy story makes for great copy.  Throw in the breasts and you have a media darling. Much like Furby, this doll has gotten lots of publicity even before the first doll has hit the shelf.  (With Furby, there was an article about it’s technology in WIRED magazine that set off the buzz– months before it was available at retail).  For the purposes of full disclosure, I have not received a doll for review. So my comments are based on the concept and the press release about the doll’s functionality.

So, if the Breast Milk Doll is hot, does this mean your child needs one?

Not really. This type of literal prop underestimates your child’s own ability to pretend. In fact, over the years we have found that less is more. We had a tester that left another technology-laden doll behind at a play date. When her Mom offered to turn around to go get the doll, our toy tester said “it’s alright, she talks too much!”

Pretend play allows your child to take on more grown up roles. In fact, if you listen to your child play “mommy” or “daddy”, you’re likely to  hear a great deal of your own language in the mix. This type of role playing allows them to work issues out in a safe setting.

Having a “smart” doll that directs the play by telling your child when it needs to be fed or have it’s diaper changed may be interesting from a technology point of view, but it misses the boat on the value of pretend play.

My mother first labeled many of these toys as  “bossy”.  During the last decade we have seen everything from toy vanity tables that tell you “put the lipstick back” to toy trucks that tell you when and how to fix a flat tire.

All of these toys remove your child from the center of their own play experience.  Watching and following directions turns the experience of pretending on its head.  So while these types of dolls may get a great deal of hype – they rob your child of the opportunity to spin their own stories.  They place your child in the role of observer or obedient doer – with little room for them using and expanding their own language skills (the doll does most of the talking) or using their imagination (the doll is in control of the agenda).  When Fisher-Price first came out with action heroes that had pre-programmed missions, one of our testers gave them back and told us “I can make up better stories!”

Specific issues about the Breast Milk Doll….

Breast feeding is a natural part of raising a baby, but you really don’t need a pair of electronic flower-shaped nipples to pretend that you are feeding your baby doll.  Most kids are perfectly capable of pretending without the bells and whistles.

The flower-shaped nipples are on a halter you put on to feed the Breast Milk Doll.  I just keep thinking that there will be a lot of little boys who will be most surprised by the real shape of nipples when the time comes.  And if we really want to be uber realistic, shouldn’t  this baby occasionally bite Mom?

We really don’t need a doll for every aspect of human development. While we recommend some dolls that giggle and even those that come with potty seats…these dolls focus more on  what the baby does.  The Breast Milk Doll is more about the mom.  We had a similar problem with the Pregnancy Doll Mattel introduced several years ago–where you zipped open your belly (the baby was in a pouch that kids could wear)  to reveal your baby.  Troubling on a whole other level.

What’s next?  Barbie gets her “friend” – complete with pretend miniature tampons and a bottle of midol?