People Seem To Have Big Feelings About Children Pretending To Breastfeed Their Dolls

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
martinedoucet / Getty Images

Two weeks ago, Steve Harvey’s wife Marjorie Harvey shared an adorable video on Instagram of her two granddaughters “play nursing” their dolls. The girls are sitting on the couch, each girl cradling a baby doll against her chest, in the breastfeeding position (and with perfect form, I might add!).

“Hey girls, what are you doing?” Grandma asks.

“Feeding our babies,” says Granddaughter #1.

“…from our boobies,” Granddaughter #2 responds, grinning.

“That’s a good mommy.”

When I first saw this little video, I was blown away by how cute and sweet the whole thing was. And it was familiar to me personally. I have vivid memories of my mother breastfeeding my younger sister, and I remember mimicking her by “play nursing” my own dolls.

As the mom of two breastfed sons, and a former La Leche League leader and lactation consultant, I have seen many kids pretend to breastfeed their baby dolls. Not only do I think it’s the most darling thing in the world, I have also noted to myself how great it is for young kids to normalize breastfeeding in this way.

Still, I shouldn’t have been surprised that not all of Marjorie Harvey’s Instagram followers felt the same way. Sure, many of the comments of were supportive. But some were, well, totally offensive and infuriating.

For example:

“[C]hildren this age should not be practicing breast feeding,” one commenter wrote. “[T]heir mind shouldn’t even be there, they should be doing something more productive and conducive towards their age bracket, this is one of the reason so many of our young girls are mothers before they finish high school, if a parent okays this now, the child will grow up thinking that its fine for them to continue this pattern of inconsistency.”

Wow. There is so freaking much to unpack here. First, the idea that these young children are going to grow up too fast, and enter motherhood too early is completely ludicrous. It supposes that breastfeeding is somehow more “mature” (i.e., sexual) than other ways of feeding a baby. And it assumes that somehow young children “practicing it” are going to feel pulled into more adult decision and situations than their peers.

There is absolutely no evidence of this at all. In fact, the more children know about how their bodies work, the less likely they are to make irresponsible reproductive decisions. And the only people sexualizing breastfeeding are commenters like this. For mothers and their children, breastfeeding is a loving, cuddly feeding method. That’s it. Case closed.

Other commenters seemed to think that the girls were showing off too much skin and that Marjorie Harvey’s decision to expose these girls’ private parts was careless and potentially dangerous.

First of all, there was almost zero skin revealed – and these girls’ nipples are not visible at all. It’s like these commenters were literally seeing things that were not there. Second of all, this is – again – based on the assumption that any kind of breastfeeding is automatically sexual. Which it isn’t. PERIOD. Can we please close the book on that?

Like I said, thankfully most of the commenters quickly chimed in to defend the video.

“Not mature enough for what?” wrote a commenter. “To play house with baby dolls? Little girls have been playing mommy to baby dolls for eons. Being mommy means feeding the baby. And if what they know of feeding a baby comes from the breast then this is completely normal. Not sure what maturity has to do with any of it.”

THANK YOU. Since when was playing with dolls scandalous? Oh, just because breastfeeding is involved? Yeah, that makes sense.

Another commenter wrote: “It’s clear many people here haven’t actually breastfed. Some kids grow up seeing their mom breastfeed and others watch their mom prep a bottle. They are just copying their mom-perfectly normal. Either way we shouldn’t shame. Unfortunately, we live in a country where breasts have been overly sexualized so something so natural has turned to be offensive to many.”

BOOM. Thank you. There is no shame in moms breastfeeding just as there should be no shame in their children imitating this natural act.

Here’s the thing. Almost every single one of us pretended to bottle-feed a baby doll when we were little. Heck, almost all baby dolls come with a bottle, and sometimes even a pacifier. Bottle-feeding as the norm for feeding babies has been drilled into our heads since we were babies ourselves.

There is nothing wrong with “play bottle-feeding,” but if we want to encourage our children to grow up and consider breastfeeding, we’ve got to make that as common and normalized as bottle-feeding.

Think about it: The way we “play house” as kids has strong impacts on us. We mimic what we see, and we strive to emulate what adults present to us. Seeing breastfeeding all our lives – and then going on to act out what we see in our imaginative play – not only normalizes breastfeeding, but it can set us up for breastfeeding success in the future.

“Play breastfeeding” is natural, normal and beneficial. It can even normalize the fact that breastfed babies are frequent feeders and that “comfort nursing” is normal. Most of all, it makes kids excited about breastfeeding – it sets breastfeeding up as something they might aim for in the future or something that they will support when people around them choose to breastfeed their babies.

So seriously, whether you breastfed or not, if you see a young child “play breastfeeding,” you need to understand that there is nothing inappropriate and absolutely nothing sexual about it. It’s just as normal as a young child giving their baby doll a bottle, rocking them to sleep, or pushing them in a toy stroller.

It’s something that should be encouraged and supported. And if you have a problem with it, you need to think critically about why that is, maybe take some time to educate yourself about breastfeeding – and most of all, take several seats before you open up your mouth to judge someone else’s parenting based on your own hangups.

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