Childbirth Educator Training Spotlight: Using Dolls in Childbirth Class

Shout out to all you childbirth educators out there, especially the DTI EDU training program participants! Since expanding into childbirth educator training, DTI has been on the lookout for the latest trends, research and useful tricks of the trade, so we’ll be featuring more blogs like this in the future.

Whether you’re new or seasoned in the classroom, we bet you’re open to different ways of presenting to keep things interesting. When using dolls for demonstration, the trick is finding options which work well for a variety of purposes. I use them to teach positions in the womb, to show different nursing positions and teach basic newborn care. I also incorporate a “birthing rehearsal” into my class, so I want to give students an opportunity to visualize birth and bonding with their baby.

Some teachers have each student or couple bring their own teddy bear or doll from home. I think this is a fine option and doubles as a funny ice breaker for an activity which always feels a tad awkward at points. Giving birth to your school mascot, an alligator?! Weird yet hilarious.

I’ve used small (11”) dolls from Target for years. They’re soft and flexible, but their size means they’re really only well-suited for womb positions. So I was finally ready to “adopt” some new babies into my classroom! Here are the qualities I hoped my new additions would have:

  • Realistic but not overly life-like (creep factor)
  • The right size for the given activity
  • Different races and ethnicities
  • Not too stiff or floppy
  • Not prohibitively expensive

To get what I needed for the different components of my class, I ended up purchasing two different doll models. Neither one is perfect and I still plan to add a couple more babies of color, but overall I’m pleased to have expanded my “family” by adding these little ones to my basket.

Here’s a quick overview of the pros and cons of my recent purchases, followed by a more detailed discussion.

  • Option #1: Breastfeeding Education Model from Cascade Healthcare Products Inc.
    • Pros: Fairly realistic. The way the body parts swivel makes it good for breastfeeding demos and decent for swaddling.
    • Cons: A little too large for a birthing rehearsal/simulation. Even though it’s 3 lbs. it feels stiff, so not great for babywearing. Doesn’t feel weighted and floppy the way newborns do. Dolls of color were out of stock.
  • Option #2: Soft Body Baby Doll from Kaplan Toys
    • Pros: Cuddly and bendable, good for multiple uses, including womb positions, babywearing, swaddle and feeding demonstrations, and birthing/bonding simulations
    • Cons: A little on the small side. Less realistic when undressed — white body suit sewn in. Some dolls of color out of stock.

Here’s some additional information on my purchases. The Cascade Breastfeeding Education Model:

  • 20.5″ long
  • Head rotates/swivels left to right only – not forwards and backwards

I was actually surprised by how large this doll appears in person. At a little over 20” long I thought it would be the perfect option for a birthing rehearsal, but his head is a little too large to envision a baby’s typical size at birth. That said, I could take the opportunity to talk about how babies sometimes have some swelling at birth due to IV fluids or other causes. But it is a breastfeeding model after all and it works well for the stated purpose, as well as for newborn care. This baby’s a little too inflexible for babywearing demonstrations, though.

Customer service with this company was good. The only drawback was that at the time I purchased, only the “white boy” was available. I purchased 2 with my birthing rehearsal in mind, with the intent to purchase babies of color when they became available, but if I’d known how the babies were going to feel proportionally in person, I would have ordered just one for newborn stuff.

he Kaplan Soft Body Baby Doll is all around the best choice of the two:

  • 16″ long
  • Kaplan has African American, Caucasian, Asian, and Hispanic dolls

I have two minor hangups with this option. First, a 19 or 20” doll rather than 16”, but with slightly smaller proportions than the 20.5” breastfeeding model, would be even better for birthing rehearsals. But I knew this before purchasing and just hadn’t found anything that fits the bill exactly. Secondly, the doll is made to remain dressed. I would prefer naked babies since newborns are not born wearing cute little pink outfits or with white t-shirts sewn to their skin!

Customer service was good. I’d considered ordering the set of 4 and adding on an additional Caucasian doll (since I currently have two Caucasian families taking my class), but ended up ordering the 2 Caucasians to start since the African-American doll was temporarily out of stock. 

The 11” dolls I already had in my classroom are the Circo brand from Target. That exact doll has apparently been discontinued, at least I couldn’t find them on the website. This is a similar one.

I noticed that the same dolls I bought from Kaplan are also available at Target cheaper. My search also turned up quite a wide range of lifelike newborn dolls that could work.

I hope this childbirth educator training spotlight on using dolls as visual aids has been helpful to you. If you have an idea for a topic you’d like to see covered, please send us an email at

Jenny Bennett is DTI’s Director of Online Programming  and works as a doula and childbirth educator with her company, Expecting the Best, in the DC metro-area.

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