Lessons learned from Nipplegate

Nipple confusion struck over the weekend. Angry moms (and dads) lashed out against Bittylab, makers of the BARE nursing nipple, which the company claims mimics breast-feeding better than other man-made nipples. The start-up, which has yet to actually sell a product, has tweeted nearly 7,000 innocuous messages about babies, breast-feeding, and bottles, but two provocative tweets turned some followers against them.

The offending messages encouraged fathers of nursing children to "reclaim" their wives’ breasts as their territory, along with their baby-mama’s attention. The tweets were promptly removed, but according to severalsources read:

"Feeling like you're competing with your newborn for mommy's attention? Meet BARE™ #air-free #babybottles" #bfing

"New baby? Reclaim your wife. Meet BARE™ air-free #babybottles #baby

When confronted with the fact that the sexist approach was less than sensitive, BittyLab tried to disown the sentiments. To one angry tweeter they responded that the whole thing was just a misunderstanding, and that “everything was taken sexually.” How else could it be taken? According to the company’s longer explanation on Facebook, “It was more about having a little extra time for the rest of the family.”

Yeah, I don’t buy that either.

In an interview with Lisa Belkin, founders Priska Diaz and her husband Dana King said they have learned from this experience. Specifically, King said he learned "that when it comes to breast-feeding people have a very strong point of view."

BittyLab’s website projects a wholesome and natural vibe, without humor or edge. Their tagline reads: “Breastfeed as long as you can, we’re here to help.” So why the sudden cheeky remark?

It was the weekend, after all. Maybe they were imbibing something stronger than breast milk. Maybe they outsourced their social media function to that nice high school boy down the hall. Maybe they were trying to incite the daddy bloggers into a sparring match over who is more sensitive. Were the tweets the beginning of an insidious plan to undermine breast-feeding and pander to men who take no part in nurturing their infants, demanding instead that their own insatiable needs be met? Or just a joke gone flat? We may never know the truth behind Nipplegate.

But here’s the important question: Who cares? True, breast-feeding moms face many challenges in this country, but two tweets don't make the Top 10.

It’s been a rough week for BittyLab so far, but I think they can recover and maybe even benefit from the buzz. No need to stop with Dad. Forget “reclaim your wife,” how about reclaiming your life?

Taking their faux nipple-making technology a step further, the company could move beyond the simple breast to craft an entire plastic wife. Add some clever robotics, and this reproduction Mommy could be programmed not only for breast-feeding in multiple positions, but also for changing diapers. Think of all the “extra time for the rest of the family” mothers would have if this new, improved Mom took care of the laundry and washed all those baby bottles.

A fully loaded artificial Mom could free up real women for all kinds of personal pursuits. Marathon tea parties and endless Lego building could be replaced by leisurely sessions of "50 Shades" and "Downton Abbey."

Finally, a synthetic mommy is an ideal solution for all those neglected parties who compete with kids for your attention. When the real Mom is happily bonding with her baby, Dad can cuddle up to a fully functioning latex alternative; girlfriends who complain "you never come out any more" could party with your plastic counterpart; and your mother-in-law will love the rapt attention she gets from your robot double as she doles out unsolicited advice.

So cheer up, BittyLab. Don’t think of the tweets as a misstep, but an opportunity to create a whole new business model. Sign me up for a blonde.

What do you think? Was the outrage justified? When do you take a stand, and when do you shake your head and pick another battle? And what would you do with an extra "wife" around the house?

Lela Davidson is the author of Blacklisted from the PTA. Her writing is featured regularly in family and parenting magazines throughout the United States and Canada. She blogs about marriage, motherhood, and life-after-40 at After the Bubbly.