Nursing as child's play

Editor's note: On Fridays, we'll publish guest columns from N&O staff members. Today, editor Burgetta Eplin Wheeler writes about a controversial new doll.

The young girl in the Breast Milk Baby doll ad is smiling brightly, happily anticipating the fun of nursing her doll once the halter sporting the two hot-pink flowers is tied snugly into place.

When the doll's mouth touches a flower, sensors will bring on sucking sounds and motions. That the flowers resemble pasties is unfortunate, given the hullabaloo over whether the doll, a product of Berjuan Toys of Spain, oversexualizes children.

Any woman who has returned to work from maternity leave only to sit horrified as a leak devours a nursing pad and spreads across her blouse during an important meeting knows that breast-feeding is about as sexual as toothpaste.

But when Berjuan recently began U.S. sales of the doll, a best-seller in Europe that the company said millions of American women had begged for, let's just say that not everyone was waiting with a warm receiving blanket. One Fox News guest expert, in fact, was outraged, saying the doll further blurred the line between little girls and adult women and would only encourage pedophiles.

What more reasonable people might legitimately find outrageous is the doll's price tag: $118 on amazon.com and an $89 "Limited Time Offer!" on the Berjuan website ( thebreastmilkbaby.com).

Despite the cost, Josee Meehan, a Durham mother of three, might buy a doll for her daughter because she thinks it will help alter society's view of women's breasts as strictly cosmetic.

"People are so uncomfortable with the motherhood slice of womanhood but are perfectly happy to promote the sexualized version of women," she said. "They teach their little girls about the most superficial aspect of womanhood and ignore the most important parts."

A world of pretend

The fact that the setup isn't anatomically correct makes the company's claims about its advocacy intentions hard for Kim Spicer, a labor and delivery nurse for 25 years, to swallow.

"I think it's a little over the top," said Spicer, a mother of three in Knightdale. "I guess they tried to make it more appealing to kids, but make nipples that look like nipples, not flowers, if the purpose is to promote breast-feeding."

Erin Tew of Garner wavers between being appalled by the doll and thinking it's just silly. "I'm all for breast-feeding," said the mother of six children, ranging in age from 10 to 7 months. "But that doll's a little ridiculous for kids. That's something they need to experience when they're grown, not when they're 3."

Even 17 years after the birth of my second child, my heart always fills with sadness for a new mother who can't seem to breast-feed or has chosen not to, knowing so well the unbelievable bond and life-altering experience she's going to miss. Anything that promotes breast-feeding, which the CDC calls a national priority, I want to welcome.

But any parent who would buy The Breast Milk Baby is a parent who would influence a daughter to breast-feed anyway.

And, more important, a lot of children already watch mom nurse the new baby and then pretend to breast-feed their dolls. Or their stuffed animals. Or the dog.

The Breast Milk Baby is just one more toy that robs our children of chances to use their wonderful imaginations - a far greater thievery than even its $118 price tag.