Crying, cooing, sleeping, eating, drinking, and wetting. What aspiring mom (or dad) doesn’t want a lifelike baby doll with all those features? But before the first baby doll appeared in the mid-1800s, girls were limited to companion-style dolls or elaborate fashion dolls—neither suited to cradling or cuddling. Unlike companion dolls, with which children play tea party and dress-up, baby dolls have a specific function in imaginative play. Children primarily treat baby dolls as they would infants—they are toted around in strollers, fed from high chairs, and rocked to sleep like newborns.
Creating a doll that looks like a baby is no easy task. Since the mid-19th century, doll manufacturers have worked to produce dolls that look and act like infants. In 1922, doll designers reached a new level of realism with the Bye-Lo baby, a doll crafted to look like a three-day-old newborn. The 1930s saw the proliferation of drink and wet dolls such as Betsy-Wetsy and the Dy-Dee doll. Nowadays, baby dolls come with an array of functions that allow them to eat, crawl, play peek-a-boo, and even respond to a child’s voice. Every baby doll—from the simplest version to the most technologically advanced—serves a special function in cultivating nurturing and parental roles in children, while promoting open-ended active play.