The Unspeakable Horror that is the Breast Feeding Baby

This morning I happened across a Neatorama post about the worst toys for children, ever.

First up, a toy tazer that delivers a mild electric shock. Then, a cartoonized game of Russian roulette, which horrified me until I remembered that I played Russian roulette with my revolving chamber Nerf gun as a kid. Then I just horrified myself.

Then there was a cleaning trolley, a security checkpoint toy, a peeing dog, a pregnant doll, and a substance that turns bath water into gel, which I have used before in a smaller dose and found it fun as hell, and sciencey, too. But that’s not what really threw me off about this list.

I then came to the breastfeeding baby, which I vaguely recall seeing in my RSS a few weeks ago but only now have I taken a look at it. Here’s the description from Neatorama:

There’s nothing wrong with a little girl wanting to play mommy to her dolls, but when she starts breast feeding the toy, that’s when it becomes a problem. If you’re one of those handful of weirdos that thinks a little girl should know how to properly breastfeed an infant though, then this Bebe Gloton doll is just what you need to help make sure your little angel is 100% ready to have a little angel of her own.

I admit that when I first heard of the doll, I thought, “Yeah, that is weird and messed up. Next.” But today I gave it a second thought, and that thought was: “Why is this a problem?”

One of the best things about being a skeptic, to me, is the opportunity to critically evaluate a long-held belief or a gut reaction and realize how you may have been mistaken. Today I had one of those opportunities: why did I, like the Neatorama writer, immediately categorize this as weird? As gross? As wrong to give to children?

Is it teaching them that hurting people is fun or cool or desirable (like the tazer or every toy gun, sword, or bow-and-arrow set)? Nope. Is it normalizing a behavior that we should find abhorrent (like TSA security gropings)? No . . . but I only realized that after logically thinking things through. And that’s where I realized I was, without knowing it, operating under the erroneous belief that breast feeding is abhorrent.

Am I a weirdo for now thinking, as the description reads, that a “little girl should know how to properly breastfeed an infant”? I mean, I think it’s fine when little girls (and little boys) bottle feed a baby doll. What’s the difference? Oh, you’ve added a breast. A nasty, nasty breast.

Because it’s not just about breast feeding – it’s about breasts, in general. Breasts are shameful fun bags for men to appreciate, and the nipples of your breasts should only be shown to the man you marry. You slut! At what age does a little girl learn that? And how long before or after that should she learn that her breasts are integral to nourishing a new life?

I was subconsciously engaging in a type of thinking that I’ve vocally opposed in the past, like when that douchnozzle misogynist alt-medder Bill Maher compared breast feeding to masturbation and said the only place boobs should be in public is Hooters. Telling, isn’t it?

Anyway, it feels good to shake off one of those insidious biases that can stick around long after I think I’ve become enlightened. And if I ever have a little girl, I won’t mind getting her a doll that breast feeds.

Or a Nerf gun. I can’t help it, I frigging love those things.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Really, the best way to teach little girls about breast-feeding is to let them see it actually taking place, for real, with actual moms and actual babies. Little kids imitate what they see. My daughter is 5 and she doesn’t need a special doll for this; she pretends to breast-feed all of her regular dolls (plus her stuffed animals and the occasional toy dragon and snake as well). Having been breast-fed herself, and had opportunity to see other moms nursing their babies, she picked it up organically from her environment. If a kid never sees real breast-feeding in her (or his!) daily life, no doll is really going to help.

  2. @notdinah: That’s a good point, and I really should have mentioned this in the post: I don’t agree with the Neatorama writer that this is a “learning” toy. It’s just a toy, like every other baby doll! It’s there for kids to, as you say, imitate the behavior of their parents, not to teach them something new.

  3. I see the box is written in a foreign language. Spanish? It doesn’t surprise me. This would never make American markets for the very reasons you stated.

    Rebecca, thank you so much for your willingness to evaluate your own feelings. It’s definitely a trend I wish more self-labeled “skeptics” would follow.

    “a pregnant doll”—Wait. WHAT??!!

  4. Being weird is an awesome wonderful trait if it distinguishes one’s thought processes from Bill Maher’s thought processes*.

    The phrase ‘Bill Maher’s thought processes’ is a euphemism for sludge gurgling down a drain pipe.

  5. I have a three year-old son and three-month old baby girl and if these didn’t cost over $100, I would buy one for my son in a heartbeat. He’s fascinated by breastfeeding and doesn’t understand why I won’t let him “help” me by feeding the baby from his own nipples. (Add “explaining lactation to a three year-old” to the long list of skills I never expected to need when I first became a parent…) He would LOVE this doll.

  6. I thank you for having an open mind and reevaluating your initial reactions…we need more of this kind of critical thinking! Breastfeeding is a natural act, and hopefully more thoughtful posts like this will turn the tide and we will stop viewing breasts as “shameful fun bags for men to appreciate.” So many people are still caught up in this mindset. Again, thank you.

    ETA: My son didn’t even know what a bottle was…when I handed one to him to feed his baby doll, he looked at me like I was crazy :) I don’t know if you necessarily need a breastfeeding doll to teach breastfeeding; it would be much, much better if kids were to learn by example – watching mom/auntie/mom’s friends breastfeed.

  7. My eldest daughter wanted a doll that had twins. Her mother said the doll gave birth! As a first-time dad and one who grew up in a all-male household, I was horrifed.

    The child would open a cover on the doll’s tummy and remove the little baby figures. Said daughter was quite happy showing me how she was born; by C-section.

    Wives: messing with husbands’ minds for 10 000 years.

  8. Come on Rebecca, think!
    Boobies are dirty, you should know that.

    My first thought was that the person writing for Neato must be young.

    I am (only) 43 but personally owned; a chemistry set, a pellet gun, a wood burning kit, a small forge with witch to create moten lead to make figurines, and a vial of mercury that was sold as a toy.

    Kids today, all there danger is virtual, why when I was a kid…

    Pass me the Depends would ya?

  9. Is it just me, or has Nerf pretty much gone off the deep end when it comes to toy weaponry? I remember when their biggest innovation was a Nerf Football. Now they have Nerf assault weapons!

  10. @mrmisconception: No! Uteruses are dirty! Get it straight!

    Personally, I remember getting those sharp, throwing stars when I was a kid…now if you want to talk about messed up toys…

  11. The box is in Spanish, FWIW.

    And personally, even though I’m an old fart, as long as the mother is discreet* about the breastfeeding in public, I don’t care if they do it. It’s a natural part of life – get over it.

    *A light blanket or sheet over the baby and mother’s breast is sufficient.

  12. Any possibility this weird “boobs are dirty/breastfeeding is dirty” thing had it’s origins in it being impolite to watch women breastfeed?

    Personally I think women and breasts are great and everyone should be a lot more skeptical and rational about the whole thing and not be squeamish in any way about the topic, most especially with children. I do however find it super awkward to be in the presence of a woman breastfeeding… I never know where to look or what to say etc… so it would seem to me that it’s socially become the kind of thing that one should do at home or in private in order to prevent weirding out other people or making them uncomfortable.

    I don’t for a second agree that that’s how things should be, but it certainly seems like a possible way that we found ourselves in this place where people doing totally normal and natural things is “weird” or “gross”

    Anyway, I totally applaud your skepticality in this regard as I wish so many more people did that kind of thing about lots and lots of their cherished beliefs and gut feelings.

  13. @QuestionAuthority Do you really, truly want to go there?

    No one tells me when or where or how I can feed my baby. If you don’t like someone being “indiscreet*” about feeding a baby with breasts as nature intended, then I imagine you have a neck (that nature gave you) that allows you to turn your head and look in the other direction. Pshaw.

    * Thank you so much for telling me exactly how and what I should use to be “discreet.”

  14. @Alterjess:

    My 3-year-old also wanted to breastfeed his sister. I’ve let him try.

    I’ve also let him try to pump.

    It wasn’t until I had Moose that I realized how odd it was that babydolls always came with bottles. That bottles were a symbol of babyhood. We’re made to think that bottles are an inevitable part of motherhood.

    It’s not that I have a problem with bottles. I think they’re great. But they’re not DEFAULT.

    It really is amazing how people are so weirded out by breastfeeding. The comments I’ve heard would just make you sad for humanity.

  15. @QuestionAuthority: Sorry, but “discreet” is just another way of saying “seeing breast-feeding in public makes me uncomfortable.” That’s YOUR problem. If you don’t want to see it, look away.

    I wouldn’t even try to cover my baby with a blanket while nursing. For one thing, it implies that I might be ashamed or embarrassed, which I’m not. For another, it wouldn’t work anyway because my baby would just yank the blanket off anyway, so why bother?

  16. I’m oblivious to everything anyway. Working in NYC, unless it directly effects my every day survival, I wouldn’t notice if 500 women started breastfeeding in a Times Square flash mob … and if I did, I’d immediately dismiss it in the hopes of catching my bus on time.

  17. After going back over this list I have to say that the people at Neato are way too easily shocked.

    Six of the eleven are terrible because they deal with bodily functions;
    peeing dog
    pregnant doll
    breastfeeding doll
    simulated ejaculation (weird, but terrible?)
    the appearance of oral sex (in adults’ eyes)
    and (horror of horrors) masturbation

    Two of the eleven deal with jobs that are what? beneath children pretending to do them;
    pretend janitorial supplies
    and pretend airport security

    One is harmless (though I’m not sure why you would want it in the bathtub with you).

    And only two of the eleven are really, truly terrible;
    The Taser
    and the Russian roulette gun (which is, to be fair, a jack-in-the-box for masochistic kids)

    I’m afraid I’m going to have to say Neato gets a failing grade on this one.

  18. @QuestionAuthority: Surlyjen got there first, but really, unless you’re standing over my shoulder looking straight down, breastfeeding mostly looks like a baby’s head and about as much boob as an average v-neck sweater would show. Do you drape a sheet over your head and plate when sitting down to eat lunch?

    (That said, nursing covers ARE really useful for that phase around 4-5 months when the baby starts turning their head to look at things without letting go of you first. Also, the ones that are just a giant hat are really pretty freaking adorable.)

    @Elyse: Reading this thread…I now have no idea *why* I haven’t been letting DS try breastfeeding his sister . (Probably because he only asks when she’s already nursing from me and I need to let her finish…maybe I’ll let him give her “dessert” the next time it comes up.)

  19. I have raised two daughters and have grandchildren of both genders. So, ladies…

    My question to you is: “Is this a fight you really want to have with the prudes? Aren’t there bigger issues and problems for us to work on than this? Do you WANT to hand them issues to bat you over the head with?”

    If you do, go ahead. I see no downside to avoiding trouble by exercising a little discretion about the feelings of others. Personally, I couldn’t care less. Part of having rights is having a little sensitivity to the feelings and opinions of others.

    Your turn.

  20. @QuestionAuthority: “Is this a fight you really want to have with the prudes?” Well, actually, yes it is. Because I happen to believe that this attitude (“it’s okay as long as you cover up”) is harmful to children and to society. Never will we be able to get past our societal hang-ups about the natural functioning of breasts, if we continue to treat that function as shameful and as something that needs to be hidden away.

    “Aren’t there bigger issues and problems for us to work on than this?” Of course there are…but as a single mom, I’m great at multitasking! ;) And besides, presenting breast-feeding in a positive light is something I can do easily just by living my daily life. I can even do it at protest marches while I work on changing those bigger problems too. ;)

  21. @QuestionAuthority: It’s not my fault that someone is a prude. It’s not my fault that someone thinks my breastfeeding my baby is something that I should hide behind closed doors or behind a sheet. I would counter your argument and encourage you and other prudes of having a little empathy and sensitivity for the mother and the hungry baby, and remove your preconceptions about modesty and discretion and allow a child to simply eat. That’s what it boils down to, a child’s nourishment, both physical and emotional. Have some empathy, please.

    Plus, the fact that you gave nursing mothers implicit instructions on how to be discreet and what to use for chissake does not follow your cry for sensitivity. Sensitivity indeed.

  22. “Aren’t there bigger issues and problems for us to work on than this?”
    From what I’ve seen some are bigger that others, sometime even on the same individual.

    Ohh, you mean bigger issues. Nevermind.

  23. @Mark Hall

    Hey, my boobs are good a multitasking too…I never said they don’t get any play time!

  24. So, in light of the positive comments about the breastfeeding doll, what was the objection to the pregnant doll? (I suppose if it was a pregnant underage doll, a la Bratz, that would be an issue…)

    I think there is something to be said for making reproduction seem as unappealing as possible to kids you don’t want reproducing any time soon. Not taboo and forbidden, but painful, icky, and a lot of work. Dolls make it seem to easy.

  25. @QuestionAuthority: I used to be weirded out by women breastfeeding in public. I guess I just wasn’t mature enough to handle it.

    I was with a friend the first time she breastfed in public. She was so defensive and embarrassed, close to tears because she felt like everyone was looking at her and thinking she was gross. (Emotions run a little high when you haven’t had much sleep.) She was discrete, most of the people there probably had no idea what was going on.

    It was heartbreaking. We should have been having our normal banter, with her grossing me out with her birthing stories and me teasing her for finally giving in. Instead, I end up making soothing noises while she apologizes to me, the waitress, the woman who glanced over for 2 seconds. That seems far more unnatural and anti-social than caring what an infant has for lunch.

  26. I was looking at the Neatorama link. HAHAHA the Buzz Lightyear sippy cup, Buzz looks proud.

  27. This toy bothers me the same way toy kitchens with toy laundry machines do: it makes me feel like you’re telling your daughter that girls are supposed to grow up to be mothers/housewives.

    But, y’know, I can just not buy these kinds of toys.

  28. Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian and the culture up here isn’t quite as prudish, but I thought the breastfeeding doll was a wonderful idea. I wouldn’t hesistate to give one to my daughter.

    @mrmisconception I feel the same way about the janitorial cart as you, but I dislike the “airport screening” toy for the same reason as the weapons.

    It’s got nothing to do with the job, it’s the message it sends about people willingly giving up their freedoms. To me, teaching children that it’s “normal” to give up your privacy (whether from the pornoscanner or TSA-grope) when asked by someone in a uniform is just as bad as teaching them that violence is normal.

  29. @Karl Stevens
    I see your point, but personal feelings about the ‘rightness’ of airport screening (not a huge fan myself) do not make the toy inherently terrible. I see it as no worse than a fast food play set, don’t want to encourage your kid to eat fast food (or accept TSA as ok) then don’t buy the toy, but the toy is not, in and of itself, bad.

  30. So a janitorial cart is bad, but toy vacuums are perfectly fine? The message there is that either it’s good to clean but not for money, or that maybe the janitorial cart would be given to a boy when cleaning should be women’s work, and I object to either of those assumptions.

  31. @pciszek: I was curious about that too, but the Neatorama post doesn’t say. According to Wikipedia (I’m really bored, okay?), the “pregnant Midge” doll originally raised objections among parents because they believed she was “too young to have children” and also because she was originally sold without a wedding ring.

    (I’d say “some people have too much time on their hands” but as I’m currently reading about vintage Barbie dolls on Wikipedia, it might be a tad hypocritical.)

  32. @mikeymike: It seems easy to think that this might be an April Fool’s joke, but I can assure you, it’s not. I’ve seen this toy on other blogs.

    As for breastfeeding, yay. Do what you need to do. As for prudes who are uncomfortable with breastfeeding in public, I think you should examine what exactly makes you uncomfortable.

  33. Yeah my first reaction was “WTF?” at first and then I stopped and thought “who cares?” Part of it is, as adults, we tend to sexualize breasts as our initial reaction. There is nothing sexual about breast feeding, unless you are into some weird stuff that is…

  34. At first I was “April fools”

    Then I was “Run for cover” because in my experience almost any conversation about breast feeding is going to be like watching a train wreck in slow motion. I blame religion. What else could possibly make the human body a sight not to see?

    My incredulity meter goes off the scale when confronted by believers in irrational things (religion). I agree with Sam Harris when he talks about the need to stop giving such beliefs a free pass on the acceptable public behavior bus. YMMV, but I think prudishness clearly belongs on the worthy of ridicule bus.

    I am still thinking April Fools

  35. FWIW, maybe it’s a generational thing. I’m not weirded out by it and as a parent, I don’t find it of sexual interest. Perhaps I just don’t see why a little discretion not to upset/offend others is such a big deal.
    Your generation can deal with it. This isn’t the first time I’ve detected a generation gap on Skepchicks. Maybe I’m getting too old to understand some of the issues here. The vehement tone of a few above is a bit…offputting (Is that even a word?). Shrug.

  36. @QuestionAuthority: You could call it a generational issue, but it’s not one that I mind being here. These women are supporting social change in the way that we, as a society, treat mothers and even other women. They’re upholding the idea that women’s breasts aren’t shameful.

    Progress and social change often does happen in spite of the complaints of older people with old, outdated ideas. Luckily, the skeptical community is full of older people, many of whom I am sure can reevaluate their biases in the face of evidence.

  37. No mention of candy cigarettes so children could be cool, just like their parents.

    The only way breast feeding will become acceptable in public is when the next generation grows up with it being no big deal.

  38. Breast feeding in public is one those issues that can get all sides of the equation riled up.

    Men are considered sexist, or prudish, or a variety of nasty things, if they get uptight about, or embarrassed by, public breastfeeding. And women who are uncomfortable with other women breast feeding in public are generally considered prudish prunes and hypocrites, even traitors to their gender.

    And they’re all told to “just don’t look” (just say no?) if it makes them uncomfortable. At the same time, they dare not look too long (or longingly, ha, ha) because then they’ll be labelled sexist or perverted or some other such thing.

    And of course the definition of looking too long is? Who knows.

    I think if women want to breast feed in public, that’s fine. After all, it is certainly a natural thing to do. But at the same time I think we are going to have to accept the fact that some men and women are going to feel uncomfortable with it, and others will want to look at them for a variety of reasons ranging from the total innocence of naive curiosity to somewhat less innocent lust. Some men and women find the sight of breast feeding to be quite sexually arousing. I think we need to accept that.

    @notdinah said:

    Never will we be able to get past our societal hang-ups about the natural functioning of breasts, if we continue to treat that function as shameful and as something that needs to be hidden away.

    While this is possibly true, it does somewhat ignore the sort of dual function role, so to speak, that breasts play, in that they are not just nursing devices, they are also highly sexual funtime devices for both men and women. As @Mark Hall quoted:

    I heard one woman describe it as “These are not play boobies. These are work boobies.”

    That is, I would think somewhat obviously, where the “issues” or confusions or whathaveyou about breast feeding in public probably stem from.

    I mean, I am not convinced that the general view of breast feeding is that female breasts are shameful (although a lot of people think that’s what they feel about it) and should be hidden. I think the issue revolves more around reactive confusion around the dual role that breasts play.

  39. Hmm… I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the toy, but I am interested in the initial reaction. I suspect there’s more to it than “breasts = dirty” or “breasts = sexualized.”

    There is something deeply incongruent about the image of a prepubescent girl pretending to lactate. It takes play out of the realm of “babysitting” the doll and into the realm of “I mothered this plastic infant with my undeveloped body.” Instead of being a kind of totem representing a nascent sense of maternal responsibility, the child is treating the doll like it came from her womb. Play is a little too literal for comfort.

    We’d probably be pretty uncomfortable with a “pretend to give birth” doll that popped out a child’s vagina, too. Aside from sanitary or other health concerns, there wouldn’t really be anything wrong with that, either. I suspect the “too literal” thing might be the reason.

    The taboo also might be related to the idea that watching someone bottle feed a puppy is perfectly normal, but breast feeding a puppy is an abomination. Why should we get upset? Milk is milk, right? Maybe it’s just cultural, but I can also imagine some pretty strong selective pressures would exist to make sure OUR milk goes to OUR babies. I’m not usually one for evolutionary psychology, but this behavior is directly related to the viability of offspring.

  40. @QuestionAuthority:

    When you say, “I just don’t see why a little discretion not to upset/offend others is such a big deal.” your premise is that those people have a right to be upset or offended. If they have that right then that means there is something shameful about women’s breasts or breastfeeding.

    1. There is nothing shameful about it.
    2. They do not have the right to be upset.
    3. They need to deal with their issue, not breast feeding women.
    4. Profit.

  41. @Kammy:
    Exactly. “I just don’t see why a little discretion not to upset/offend others is such a big deal.” could be applied equally well to homosexuals kissing in public or black people entering through the same door as white people. You’ve got to violate the conventions and upset a few people if you want change.

  42. I think that the reactive confusion is a consequence of the fact that the vast majority of public displays of breasts are when the breasts are serving a play function. As their work function becomes more common, I think it is inevitable that the confusion will dissipate.

    I fail to see how the desexualization of the work function of breasts can be achieved without women working them in public. Simply blogging about it isn’t going to give people a chance to learn to be comfortable with public breastfeeding.

  43. @Skepotter: Blogging about it raises consciousness. When I was in my early 20’s, I was very uncomfortable with breast feeding in public. I’d get a little upset whenever I saw it. When it was brought to my attention that I should question my cultural prejudices, I learned to relax.

    A little conscious effort to remind myself that there’s nothing wrong with a busy mom doing her best to care of her kid was all it took. Without a better understanding of the mother’s perspective, more exposure would’ve just meant more frustration on my part.

  44. I have no problem with breastfeeding in public. I’m bothered by loud cellphone conversations, and by people who think they can walk and text at the same time. Breastfeeding comes with the job of being a parent and should be done wherever the parent feels it necessary. Children and childraising are more and more a visible part of society (remember the pre-diaper-changing station days; that sucked for me, I’m sure), and that’s a VERY good thing.

    I do take issue with the way all these toys are marketed. It seems as though our culture is hellbent on making little girls into little mommies, and little boys into little soldiers/firemen/TSA agents. How about a little variety, a little less gender-stereotyping? Presenting a few other life choices besides producing more babies or shooting people maybe? [I guess a “meditating hermit doll” or a “programming doll” wouldn’t sell as well, would it?]

  45. @delphi_ote: Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that talking or writing about public breastfeeding is a waste of time. Clearly, they are a valuable part of raising social consciousness.

    I meant that they are not enough.

  46. @Kammy: I should know better than to comment on this thread, but here goes.

    I agree with 3 of the 4 points you make. The one I have a problem with is #2. I think everyone has the right to be upset about anything they want, even if it’s totally irrational. What they don’t have is the right to expect anyone to cater to their feelings. That depends on whether the thing they’re upset about is:
    1) someone else’s fundamental right (such as a baby’s right to be fed or a mother’s right to feed her child) or
    2) if the thing they are complaining about is a violation of someone’s rights (I have the right to be offended by parents who deny their children basic, medically proven health care, such as vaccinations, and also have the right to demand something be done about it),
    3) whether it is practical to do anything about it,
    4) whether anyone else agrees with them,
    5) what the relative cost burden is,
    6) etc.

    I’m upset by lots of things: batters who swing at the 1st pitch when the bases are loaded with two outs and their team behind by a run in the late innings while facing a pitcher who can’t find the plate, people who spoil perfectly good coffee by putting awful smelly overpowering “flavors” in them (like 90% of the little one-cup coffee packets at work), any Microsoft product except flight simulator, etc., but that doesn’t mean I have the right to expect anyone else to care or to do anything about them. Besides, if they did, they would be depriving me of the right to luxuriate in my righteous indignation.

    Points 1, 3, and 4 I’m fine with (though maybe 3 & 4 should be 4 & 5), and a new point 3 should be inserted, “3. They don’t have the right to expect anyone else to care that they are upset.”

  47. As the grandson of a janitor and a former part time janitor my self, I want to register my righteous indignation about the cleaning toy being included in the list. <Jay Novella>I’m very upset.</Jay Novella>

  48. Oh no! It might be sexy!

    I’m lucky to live in Austin, TX, one of the few places in the US where a woman can legally go topless if she damn well feels like it.

    I can’t help but tilt my head at the separation between ‘work function’ and the inherent sexiness of breasts.
    Should sculptures hands be less sexy because they create something beautiful?
    So what if somebody thinks a sight that is readily associated with health, fertility, compassion, lack of sheeplism, or even creativity is sexy?
    Further, on offense: Should people petition against Austins attempt to reduce sexist modestly laws because someone is afraid that they (or someone else) might be in danger of finding something sexy?

    “I can also imagine some pretty strong selective pressures would exist to make sure OUR milk goes to OUR babies. I’m not usually one for evolutionary psychology, but this behavior is directly related to the viability of offspring.”

    I love your posts, but I have to refute your postulate about the evolutionary source for feeling awkward. Not only do hunter gatherers nurse each others children, in the ‘third world’ it is not terrible uncommon to see someone nurse a goat or sheep if necessity calls for it. In these cases survival or the group is dependent on not having instinctual objections to those things that send out ‘civilized’ heads spinning.

  49. I’ve breastfed my child in just about every location you could care to name. To those people who are made uncomfortable by the sight of a breastfeeding child. Would you be more comfortable to be around a screaming child? Because often those are the only choices. Combine that with the fact that a breastfeeding child is virtually indistinguishable from a sleeping child (not something that can be said of a screaming child), and it’s a no brainer.

  50. Really, Rebecca? “Complaints of older people with old, outdated ideas?”

    Kammy, people offended by something do have the right to be offended, don’t they? If not, why not? Note this is different from their reaction (if any) to the action that offends them. I think the comparison to black/white entrances to be a bit over the top, delphi.

    Please remember what I said above: I don’t find it of particular interest myself. I guess I’m taken aback by some of the emotions here.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me I’ll go find my cane and walker and let myself out.

  51. Sure, they have a ‘right’ to be offended….
    But unless they have a good reason, they should also be ignored. Someone might be offended by purple hair, does that mean I should recommend that my GF cover her hair in public?
    If I am having a conversation with friends in a coffee shop and someone is offended because I say something along the lines of ‘fck creationism’, then, well, fk’em.

    Personally I find the idea of someone being offended by a woman breastfeeding her child to be offensive in the first place… take that for what you will. I really don’t see why anyone would suggest catering to those people.

    I am really not trying to be offensive, or put anyone off with the an over the top emotional approach… But I am always taken aback by the ‘but it might offend someone’ argument.

  52. @QuestionAuthority:

    Really, Rebecca? “Complaints of older people with old, outdated ideas?”

    Well, yes. The idea that women should be ashamed to breastfeed when their child is hungry is old and outdated, and ridiculous. There are plenty of other ideas that have gone or are going the same way, like opposition to interracial marriage or opposition to gay marriage.


    Like I said, there are plenty of older people who are able to adjust and realize the error of their ways. But yep, there will always be those who hold fast to those ideas until the day they die.

  53. The only reason people are offended and show you that they are offended is to put social pressure on you to not do the thing that they find offensive.

    If someone wants to be offended and keep it to themselves, fine. Everyone is entitled to their own feelings and to get offended at what ever nonsense they want to find offensive.

    If they want to try and exert control over where and when and how you may feed an infant that needs to be fed, they have crossed the line into something that is none of their business and they can just STFU.

    That busybodies would interfere with a mother and her infant is something I find quite offensive. They need to figure out something useful to do with their time because obviously they don’t have enough useful things to do if they have time for interfering with a mother and her child.

    I feel like asking “why don’t you find something useful to do, like pick up trash from the gutter”.

  54. I wonder how many young people ” see the error of their ways “. It is not only the old ones who must change outdated and ridiculous ideas.
    Even young people hold fast to ideas that, in the fullness of time, will seem ridiculous.

  55. Alterjess said:
    I have a three year-old son and three-month old baby girl and if these didn’t cost over $100, I would buy one for my son in a heartbeat. He’s fascinated by breastfeeding and doesn’t understand why I won’t let him “help” me by feeding the baby from his own nipples.
    Try reminding him of that a decade from now and see how he reacts.

  56. I’m from Quebec, where women have the right to breastfeed anywhere they have a right to be, and yet there are still incidents where breastfeeding moms are shamed. When these are reported online, inevitably you will find comments either 1) assuming the breastfeeding mom is breastfeeding as a political statement/likes to flaunt her boobs/is inconsiderate of others while feeling entitled herself (e.g. “These are the kind of moms who would be uncomfortable having people stare at their boobs while breastfeeding,” 2) making inane comparisons between breastfeeding in public and urinating or having sex in public (e.g. “Urinating is natural, but we’re not allowed to do it in public,” 3) wondering why moms can’t pump/buy formula/plan outings around feeding times/use a breastfeeding room designed for this purpose (even if it means uprooting her other children and dragging the whole outraged lot of them to a tiny room while the baby presumably wails in hunger) or 4) some demented combination of the above.

    This sets me positively *aflame* with rage.

    So to those holding this prudish and ignorant mindset (not, of course, that I expect any of them are reading this blog), I would like to say, this is not about you or your quaint, anachronistic attitudes towards child-rearing, and it’s not about the come-hither titillation of exposed mammary flesh. It’s about a child’s right to be fed when he or she is hungry and soothed when he or she is cranky or hurt (and if it’s from a breast or a bottle or a pacifier I could care less), and, as a fringe benefit to you, such children who are responded to in a prompt manner are far less likely to wail their little heads off and further ruffle your delicate sensibilities.

    And yes, we ban plenty of things from the public sector that are “natural”, but one that we do not is eating. Because eating, dear prudes, is what is going on here, and I’ll be damned if my baby will do it furtively in a smelly public bathroom any more than I would.

    And while I normally make some effort to be mildly discreet about it, when my infants were hollering their little lungs out (hell, even when they merely whimpered), I forgot that my boobs ever had any other purpose than to be shoved in that baby’s mouth right there at that very moment, and the last thing on my sleep-deprived, awash-in-hormones brain was proper etiquette regarding the quaintly Victorian sensibilities of hypothetical others. I think a breastfeeding mom’s need for discretion is entirely at her discretion, and while others have a right to be offended/revolted/maddened/titillated/bored by it, what they do not have is the right to tell her what the fuck she must to accommodate them.

  57. The author’s reaction pretty much clears up any “April Fool’s!” possibility:

    “As for the breast feeding doll, nothing is going to convince me that that’s a good idea. Krista, it’s absolutely adorable that your little girl would mock-breast feed and Kristen, I completely support breast feeding in public and it makes me sick when I hear about women who are harassed because they were doing something completely natural.
    BUT, little girls don’t have breasts and they don’t need a toy to let them pretend to have them and then have a doll suck on these pretend breasts. If you encourage this, are you going to be surprised if you walk in on a group of little girls playing house with one of them sucking on the other’s nipple?”

    Riiiiiight, because I totally held my friends in my lap with a plastic baby bottle in their mouths. Pretending to have breasts is totally going to lead to letting your friends suck on your nipples. Duh.

    And in response to this:
    @dj357: “I do however find it super awkward to be in the presence of a woman breastfeeding… I never know where to look or what to say etc…”

    Where do you look when a woman is feeding her baby with a bottle?

  58. @QuestionAuthority: Sadly, being terminally single, I have no kids.

    I think it’s a terribly important fight to wage against the prudes. Uh, I mean to stand up for your rights against the prudes over.

    It’s a natural function, and not disgusting. And a woman can’t be locked at home just because she need s to nurse every few hours.

  59. @pixelkd:
    “I love your posts, but I have to refute your postulate about the evolutionary source for feeling awkward. Not only do hunter gatherers nurse each others children, in the ‘third world’ it is not terrible uncommon to see someone nurse a goat or sheep if necessity calls for it. In these cases survival or the group is dependent on not having instinctual objections to those things that send out ‘civilized’ heads spinning.”

    Interesting! Thanks. I’d never heard of this, and I like learning things that kick my view of the world on its side. I did some more reading, and I also found that it’s not unheard of for other mammals to nurse across species.

    I don’t think my theory is totally in the can, though. It could be, as you suggest, that this discomfort is just a cultural quirk. It could also be that this discomfort is adaptive, but that cultures overcome it as necessity. I found evidence that mammals do seem to avoid “milk theft” as an adaptation. Not only that, the fewer offspring the mother has, the less likely she is to allow non-offspring to nurse (and we humans certainly don’t have many babies!) For example check out this paper I found:

    “Non-offspring nursing is more common in taxa with larger litter sizes for four of six measures of litter size (Table I). Because litter size is a relatively conservative trait, this trend is apparent at a fairly high taxonomic level. For example, non-offspring nursing is more common in pigs than in other Artiodactyla, and more common in carnivores and rodents than in primates or bats.”

    “Non-offspring nursing is typically associated with milk theft in monotocous taxa, but not in polytocous taxa. The lower levels of non-offspring nursing in monotocous taxa may therefore result from a generally lower tolerance towards non-offspring by the lactating females.”

    I also found a more recent review paper that explains all the hypotheses as to why mothers engage in non-offspring nursing and the evidence supporting each one:

    To what degree are these “milk theft” behavioral hooks lodged in our brains? I have no idea. But I learned all kinds of interesting things today. Check out this paper comparing Tiger and Hyena non-offspring nursing:

    I found this bit particularly strange and interesting, “We suggest that non-offspring nursing in lions occurs as a by-product of the females’ communal defense of their cubs against infanticide.”

    Fascinating stuff, and I never would’ve looked into any of it if you hadn’t stopped to comment. Thanks again for teaching me stuff!

  60. Not gonna lie–when I was really little, I would hold my dolls up to my chest and pretend I was feeding them…hey, I was imitating the most important woman in my life at the time, my mom! Nothing wrong with that.
    She tended to like me imitating her even more when that led to my helping change diapers and cleaning up after my siblings…

  61. @QuestionAuthority:

    It all comes down to this simple question: Is breastfeeding shameful?

    If you answer no, then whose problem is it if someone chooses to get upset about it. Is it the breastfeeding mom or the person who is not willing to examine their thoughts to find out why they’re offended.

    If you answer yes, you’re wrong.

  62. The onus isn’t on the woman, who isn’t doing anything wrong, to shield other people from discomfort and awkwardness that comes from this cultural notion that breastfeeding is shameful.

    In other words, if seeing someone breastfeed in public makes you uncomfortable, you’re totally free to throw a blanket over YOUR head. Look the other way or deal with it.

  63. Humans and human females do tend to be quite promiscuous in their ability to love infants not their own, compared to other mammals, and their ability to foster infants not their own.

    I suspect that is due to maternal death in childbirth due to cephalopelvic disproportion. The tribe that had females that would foster infants not their own, could tolerate a little bit more cephalopelvic disproportion and so would tend to have members that had brains that were a little bit bigger.

    I think the anti-breast feeding in public meme is to try and thwart the reproductive success of the mother and infant. Stressing the mother with disapproval makes it harder to lactate, it plants the seed in the infant that breast feeding in public is stressful and should be avoided.

    It is a form of bullying. Trying to emotionally harm someone when they are vulnerable. No one is more vulnerable than a woman who is breast feeding her infant. Trying to prevent her from doing what she knows her infant needs is to try and harm her and her infant.

  64. @dinkenesh: In other words, if seeing someone breastfeed in public makes you uncomfortable, you’re totally free to throw a blanket over YOUR head. Look the other way or deal with it.

    Or, you can stay uncomfortable, get in a snit, give yourself a thoroughly bad day etc.

    What you have no justification for doing is blaming the mother. It’s your problem, not hers.

  65. One of the things I love about the Skepchicks is that they often challenge me (and others) to question the basic assumptions and unconscious biases that rattle around in our heads. I can’t count the number of times I have said to myself:

    “Hmmmf! I never thought of it THAT way!”

    And that gives me a great opportunity to discard, or at least re-evaluate whether or not it’s time for a “new way” of thinking about an issue.

    Now in this particular case (public breastfeeding) I was already completely comfortable with the idea, and doing a quick “bias self-check” leaves me feeling that, at least in THIS case, I’m pretty much good to go. I get to feel all smug and self-satisfied on this one. ;) I’m sure there will be an issue soon enough where I find my biases are again in need of serious modification!

    All this is a rather long way of suggesting to @QuestionAuthority that you take this as an opportunity to “go deep” and really think about whether or not it might be time for a little mental Spring Cleaning. It can be a little uncomfortable, especially if the baises are inter-connected in a lot of places (mine often are), but I’ve never once regretted the investment of effort.

  66. I’m curious why so many are trying to find an evolutionary way to explain this behavior.

    It is human nature pure and simple; some people are dicks and don’t care who knows it. Anything that makes them uncomfortable is automatically the other person’s fault.

  67. @Dale Husband: I was thinking it would make a good wedding toast!

    As to people worried about staring “too long” at a breastfeeding woman – I obviously can’t speak for all moms, as long as you’re not making loud comments while you’re staring, I’m probably not going to notice or care.

  68. I am thinking, as the world gets a little more dehumanizing daily one needs to stop and enjoy nature where ever you find it. You know, stop and smell the roses. Spring is in the air. Besides, it seems rude not to look.

    And then I am thinking, someone is going to ask have I never smelled an infant and a rose because, well you know.

    And now I am thinking, I am going to get blasted for suggesting that babies stink. So I should go back outside and enjoy the sunshine.

    PS: I still blame religion … they were ashamed of their nakedness before the Big Giant Head. What a fracked up way to run a garden of earthly delights – make beautiful naked people and then fill their heads with this “shameful” nonsense. There is some shame to claim there, and I am looking at you, Men Who Claim To Speak For God. I mean really, that had to come from wussy men who were afraid of their women folk. Am I right or what?

    Oh, and another thing; What would be worse from a woman’s perspective; Zeus, who loved women to excess, or the bible’s jealous, misogynistic, racist, homophobic, sadistic, mass murdering dick with no sense of humor whatsoever? I am thinking Zeus was the man. Maybe a bumper sticker campaign for, “Zeus got a bum rap”.

  69. @Skepotter: True. It’s certainly no skin off my back if people care to throw hissy fits over women who breastfeed in public, as long as they don’t try to harass and shame women out of doing it.

  70. Yes, breastfeeding is a natural and useful act and hopefully in some not too distant time women will just be able to do it and it will be totally unremarkable. It’s improved greatly from when my son was small (he’s 18) and my generation were encouraged to breastfeed in public toilets. Yes, cos that’s where we’d all be happy to eat a meal (!)

    I didn’t breastfeed, not because I was worried about being shamed or whatever, but for a number of reasons including pregnancy had left me frail and I had a full-time job. Although, ”I just didn’t feel like it” should also be valid. Breastfeeding is quite often but by no means inevitably the best solution. People can know all the benefits and still decide not to: they are not automatically wrong.

  71. This is truly the ONLY forum where breastfeeding has been discussed where not one person said breastfeeding was disgusting or horrible or “I can’t believe you let your baby suck on your tits like that, how gross.” I am truly grateful to everyone on here who is able to clearly convey such a clear-headed view of breastfeeding, even if it wasn’t their initial reaction. Truly, truly refreshing.

  72. @“Other” Amanda:

    Where do you look when a woman is feeding her baby with a bottle?

    Looking directly at the baby and making inane cutesy comments is not socially inappropriate when a baby is being bottle fed.

  73. Well, I object to the toy. Mostly because I’ve seen the commercials and the crying sounds like something that’d really annoy parents. Plus, I’m uncomfortable with the idea of a toy that would make a girl think she has to wear a vest to breastfeed, as considering the crap sex-ed kids get, might result in her trying to nurse her own infant through a vest.

    Honestly, though, it’s not so much the idea of a child pretending to breastfeed, as the idea of marketing yet another baby doll to girls. Actually, many children I’ve known have pretended to breastfeed, and they’ve never needed a special toy to do so. Really, I don’t think this sort of toy is going to be the thing that pushes a girl from bottle feeding to breast feeding as an adult. For that we’d need to look at the reasons why many women who want to breastfeed don’t – such as work schedules that don’t permit pumping, the difficulty of pumping, expense of pumps, maternity leave too short to establish nursing, doctors wh0 don’t know how to remedy common nursing problems, etc.

    And, come to think of it, had I vast cash sum handy, I’d be creating a doll that was marketed to boys, with pictures of boys on the cover and commercials with boys caring for the doll as practice for their future as good daddies.

  74. @daedalus2u: If you’re looking for evolutionary reasons that human women happily care for children not there own: Especially in small bands, the other women are probably your relatives, and their children will carry at least some of your genes.

  75. @weatherwax: Yes, I agree. I suspect that is true of other animals that foster infants not their own. I saw a TV nature program where an elephant did. She was the matriarch of the herd but the infant was not from her herd.

  76. @mrmisconception: “I’m curious why so many are trying to find an evolutionary way to explain this behavior.”

    Well, not “so many”. I think it’s just me and daedalus2u and a couple others talking about this stuff for the most part. And why? Because it’s interesting!

    It is human nature pure and simple…”

    Yes, but WHY are these things human nature? It’s fun to try to figure out the reasons that we’re such assholes sometimes.

  77. @daedalus2u: Check out some of the articles I linked to earlier (especially the review paper.) There are actually a lot of hypotheses as to why mammals let offspring that aren’t their own nurse. Some of them would apply to primates and proboscidea!

    I particularly enjoyed the idea that it’s just an accident of being in proximity to other moms. Selection pressures push you to gang up together to protect your young, but since you’re all laying around in the same place all the time and you have so many selection pressures pushing you to be a nurturing mom, you end up nursing someone else’s offspring.

  78. No, no, no. The only unspeakable horror here is the photo of MY breast that I put on Facebook when they started censoring breastfeeding photos.

    Nobody said it was beautiful. My career as a strip-tease artist was stillborn.

  79. Come on, people. We’re talking about the good old US of A, where children are being tought every day that seeing their parent express their mutual love by kissing and caressing is _disgusting_; where public displays of affection are frowned upon as immoral; where people who care for each other or love each other are now allowed to express affection by touching each other unless someone died. _Of course_ it cannot be societally accepted to allow a woman to develop a bond with her baby by means of breastfeeding: she could really love the child and we cannot allow that. She should always pump her milk or give the baby formula, lest the baby feel conforted by the skin contact with her mother. There’s a quota of emotionally crippled population to fill, people! How would you keep up with the standard rate of serial killers and sexual deviants if you raise your kids with love and tenderness? Perish the thought!

  80. I see my breasts as fun sex things, and I like it this way. Maybe my idea of my breasts will broaden to include the baby feeding part, should I ever happen to procreate – but right now… family members and breasts don’t mix.

    That said, I think that offering such a doll to children is a good thing. Maybe this way they’ll already grow up with a broad idea of what a breast is, and maybe they’ll see them with more of the dignity that they deserve.

    But, as Rebecca indicated, this baby doll, which enforces a gender stereotype needs to be accompanied by gender neutral and ‘boy’ stuff so that the child can choose what they like themselves without arbitrary societal restrictions.

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