Baby simulator dolls may encourage pregnancy in teenage girls

The use of dolls that mimic real babies may encourage rather than deter teenage girls from getting pregnant according to the results of a controlled randomized trial.

The use of life-like dolls that cry to be fed and changed and 'wake up' in the night for feeding (infant simulators) have been widely used in developed countries to deter teenage girls from getting pregnant. It was thought that experiencing first-hand the responsibility of caring for a baby and the 24-hour commitment it requires would encourage girls to enjoy teenage life before starting a family. However, their use was based on expectation and hypothesis since there was no published evidence of their long-term effect.

The results of the first randomised controlled trial to investigate the effectiveness of using infant simulators as a pregnancy deterrent have just been published and indicate that they may not effectively deter teenage girls from becoming pregnant. In fact the data show that the girls who cared for an infant simulator were more likely to become pregnant than those who did not.

 Pregnancy Baby Doll Simulator

The study was conducted across 57 schools in Western Australia, which were randomly assigned to either participate in the infant simulator pregnancy prevention scheme (1267 girls) or to provide standard health education curriculum (1567 girls). The girls who participated in the study were aged 13–15 years at the start of the study and were followed until the age of 20 years.

Surprisingly twice as many girls in the group became pregnant compared with the control group (8% versus 4%). Similarly, abortion rates were higher in the infant simulator group than in the control group (9% versus 6%).

Study author, Dr Sally Brinkman of the University of Western Australia commented:

Our study shows that the pregnancy prevention programme delivered in Western Australia, which involves an infant simulator, does not reduce the risk of pregnancy in teenage girls. In fact, the risk of pregnancy is actually increased compared to girls who didn’t take part in the intervention”.

However, further evaluation studies may be needed to confirm these findings since the overall participation rate was quite low (45% in the control schools and 58% in the intervention schools) and there is no information about the girls who chose not to enrol.

Nonetheless, similar programmes are reportedly delivered in 89 countries across the world and the results this trial highlight the need for evaluate whether the adoption of such schemes is prudent use of public funds.


Brinkman S, et al. Efficacy of infant simulator programmes to prevent teenage pregnancy: a school-based cluster randomised controlled trial in Western Australia. Lancet August 2016. Epub ahead of print. available at

Kate Bass

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Kate Bass

Kate graduated from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne with a biochemistry B.Sc. degree. She also has a natural flair for writing and enthusiasm for scientific communication, which made medical writing an obvious career choice. In her spare time, Kate enjoys walking in the hills with friends and travelling to learn more about different cultures around the world.


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  1. Samantha Forehand Samantha Forehand United States says:

    The study released yesterday by The Lancet is not a representation of our curriculum and simulator learning modality but the researchers’ “adaptation” and is consequently not reflective of our product nor its efficacy. The RealCare Baby® Program is a combination of curriculum and hands-on aids, and if it is being tested and judged for effectiveness, it should be judged in its entirety.  

    The “adaptation” used in the study was developed by Australia’s Swan Hills Division of General Practice, the Coastal and Wheatbelt Public Health Unit and the North Metropolitan Population Health Unit. The class time designated for teaching the adaptation was a mere 2.5 hours.

    The RealCare Program is 14 hours of class time, learning activities and a prolonged take-home simulator experience.

    This study is not measuring Realityworks’ program and infant simulator but – as stated in the study – is investigating the effect of Australia’s Virtual Infant Parenting program.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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