The Mini Ducklings Soothie Sleeve plush animals are a new line of plush toys created by a pediatrician, Dr. Sarah Donohue, that uses a parent’s own scent to comfort their child, whether it be while at daycare or throughout the night. Utilizing a parent’s scent offers children comfort and familiarity, which in turn can decrease fear and separation anxiety. Simply wear the sleeve to implement your scent and the sleeve goes directly on the corresponding plush animal as its t-shirt. As demonstrated on TikTok, the brand is popular with small children. Currently, there are four adorable characters in the line: Bella the Bear, Emmy the Elephant, Lucy the Lamb, Baxter the Bunny.
Mini Ducklings were created by Dr. Sarah Donahue, a pediatrician who has made working with small children her life’s work. As a mother herself, she named the company after her own three children who used to follow her around like “mini ducklings” (now that her children are grown, her dogs follow her instead). In fact, her daughter Emily wrote “My Soothie Sleeve- Close at Heart” and has taken an active role in the product development.
Recently, Dr. Sarah Donahue discussed this brand, her career, and more via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): When did you first discover your love for medicine and why did you gravitate towards pediatrics?
Dr. Sarah Donahue (SD): My dad is a pediatrician, so I was exposed to medicine from an early age and was always in awe of the impact my Dad had on our community. Frequently, when we would go out to dinner, a parent would approach him and thank him for saving their child’s life. It was so inspiring to see all the good he did and I thought he could do anything. I wanted to be just like him so I studied hard and followed in his footsteps. I love pediatrics because children are so resilient, honest, and innocent.
MM: What gave you the idea to start this company and what research did you do into the power of scent?
SD: While I love caring for children in the hospital, I have always dreamed of being my own boss and running a company. I also knew scent comforts children because it is frequently used in NICUs to soothe when parents can’t be there – often a mom tucks a swatch of fabric in her bra and then leaves it in the isolette with her baby when she goes home. When my youngest daughter turned five, she developed severe separation anxiety and could only sleep when she was next to me. This was tricky because I work 24-hour shifts and am gone 1-2 nights per week. We finally tried having her sleep with my t-shirts and that did the trick! She was able to sleep snuggled up to my t-shirts because they smelled like me. Both of these experiences were circulating around my brain for years before I put them together as a business idea one night at 2AM. I couldn’t believe no one had already done this. I quickly found several scientific studies to back up the concept—research shows that Mom’s scent helps babies cry less, feed better, and have less fear. I was driven to find a way to use a parent’s scent to comfort their child in a cute, easy, and fun way that the child could grow with and Soothie Sleeve was born!
MM: Your daughter wrote the charming little story that comes in this set, so what was it like to collaborate with your child?
SD: My daughter, Ellie, who is 17 years old, is such a beautiful writer and I am not! I had already been working on Soothie Sleeve for several months when I had the idea to pair it with a cute book. My children always loved books that rhymed and I wanted the opportunity to further show families all the ways Soothie Sleeve can be helpful. I tasked Ellie with writing the book and she was super excited to be involved in the business and to write a story that would hopefully be loved by so many children. She actually wrote it over one weekend and it was so perfect. I love that she is the author and I love how the book turned out.
MM: How did you select the characters, names, and kinds of animals to include in the line?
SD: I researched which were the most popular plush animals on the market and took that into consideration along with what I knew my own children loved when they were little! We designed six total animals and picked the 4 that turned out the best. The names we added much later because we thought it would be fun to have cute little names for kids to use if they liked or they could always rename them if they preferred something else!
MM: How did you find a manufacturer and how different was the prototype from the final product?
SD: Being a pediatrician, I had no idea what to do with this idea when I first had it! I started listening to podcasts about how to bring a product to market and found my product designer that way. I sent him a cold email explaining that I am a pediatrician and I had this idea but didn’t even know the next step. He loved the idea, so we started working together right away. I knew exactly what I wanted it to look like and how I wanted the sleeve to function, so my initial prototypes were very similar to my final product. We tweaked little things on the animals’ faces and some details about the sleeve but overall the concept stayed the same.
MM: What’s your favorite part of this book and why?
SD: My favorite thing about the book is that my daughter wrote it and I love the rhymes. My favorite page in the book is the one with the child going to daycare where it says:
“Let’s place it on your favorite pet, so when we’re apart, you’ll be all set. It’s snug and warm and smells like me; your comfort, my love, is the key.”
I love the cute description of how it works here and the tracing of the two hands at the bottom of that page is something Ellie and I used to do when she went to preschool and missed me. We would trace our hands together in the morning and she would take that to school with her and when she missed me she would get that out and be comforted.
MM: What’s the best feedback you’ve gotten about your book and toy set so far?
SD: I love hearing from parents of children with separation anxiety that it helps comfort their child when they have to be apart. My favorite quote actually came from one of the moms I gave one to on my PR team: “My clingy monster loves it and my nanny thinks it is magic!”
MM: Are you planning to add any additional books to the line?
SD: I would love to expand the line and add additional books in the future! I also have a second product coming out in the next few months which I am excited to share soon!
MM: How do you hope your career evolves over the next ten years?
SD: My dream would be for Mini Ducklings to continue to grow and for Soothie Sleeve to continue comforting families. I’m introducing a second line in the next few months which I’m very excited about. And I have so many ideas for future products! I’m currently juggling my company and practicing pediatrics and would love to continue doing both but may need to hire some help soon so that I can do that!
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
SD: My overall goal for Mini Ducklings is to continue to create products that help parents and their children in fun, cute, easy, and accessible ways. Lastly, I always like to mention that Soothie Sleeve is safety tested for 0+ but like all plush for babies it is meant to soothe and comfort while they are awake, but then should be removed from the crib while they are asleep, until they reach 12 months. Once they are over 12 months it can be safely used for sleep per AAP safe sleep recs.