I read this article about the government funded, Sheffield University research project which will be offering financial incentive for new mothers to choose breastfeeding. The pilot scheme will target several deprived areas in Derbyshire and South Yorkshire where breastfeeding uptake rates are low. Mothers will be given shopping vouchers worth £120 if they breastfeed to six weeks. Then, if they continue to breastfeed for six months they will receive a further £80.
I am bemused and appalled at this plan. At best an ineffective, shortsighted way to increase breastfeeding uptake, at worst discrimination against mothers who don’t, or can’t breastfeed. My first issue with this idea is the concept that those who have breastfed for longer ‘win’ shopping vouchers. As someone who was unable to breastfeed my eldest child past six weeks, and felt terrible guilt and anguish as a result, I know that this would have added to my feelings of failure.
For some of the Mothers in these deprived areas where the pilots are being run those vouchers would be a huge help to the monthly budget. ‘Fail’ at the breastfeeding scheme and her weekly food budget is reduced, does that seem fair?
My second, and probably bigger concern, is that financial incentive doesn’t address any of the practical, emotional, or sociographic reasons for the low uptake in the areas. Breastfeeding doesn’t always happen easily, problems with latch, tongue tie, supply etc need addressing and practical support and advice needs to be offered. Sometimes in communities where breastfeeding isn’t the norm the awareness of its benefits for mother and baby are not well known of understood. Lack of sleep and strain on relationships can be tough when a baby is being breastfed as baby is so dependant on the mother, and she needs support to cope with that. This can be hard to come by in places where it’s unusual to make that choice.
Financial incentive doesn’t address any of these issues. Money would be better spent on breastfeeding supporters working ,and easily accessed, in these areas. It could be spent on an awareness campaign, specifically targeting these mothers and their families. Breastfeeding groups where women could come together and share their experiences, peer support can be so valuable as a new Mum. Why on earth isn’t this obvious to these medical researchers?
If financial incentive where going to work then surely the cost of formula would have caused breastfeeding rates to have skyrocketed? It’s not that simple.
The other horrible outcome of this scheme, is that midwives and health visitors will be policing it. So they’ll be responsible to report back whether the Mother has succeeded and gets the vouchers. This is really counterproductive. Mothers afraid to report problems with breastfeeding to the people who are employed to support them for fear of losing their financial reward. The, often already challenging, relationship between health visitor and Mother starting out on such an unhealthy footing, ridiculous.
I would like to see this idea binned and the money directed at more healthy, productive, long term campaigns. Ask midwives, breastfeeding supporters and health visitors and follow their advice because I’m afraid that university medical researchers don’t appear to have a clue.
This echoes my feelings on this idea. There needs to be much more investment in support, education, advice, peer support etc in those areas (and indeed many areas) and that would be a better use of money in my opinion.
That said, I would be interested to see the outcome of the trial.
I’m not sure I care about the results, or that they will even report the more important results of longevity on breastfeeding rates or mental health impact on ‘failures’ etc.
a well written and well argued post.
I agree with you, I think it is wrong to reward those who breastfeed with valuable meal vouchers in areas where families will possibly be desparate to hold on to that much money – this could even result in them lying to the MW or HV that breastfeeding is taking place , when it is not and the baby could be put at risk as a result. Will they be offering shopping vouchers to more “affluent” mums??? It is just wrong and irresponsible.
I am all for breast feeding being encouraged and for help to be offered to those having problems with latching on etc.. BUT at the end of the day not all new Mum’s (or indeed second , third or even fourth time ones) can breastfeed or want to for whatever reasons , and those reasons should be respected. As long as the baby is getting milk, from the breast or the bottle, and thriving and Mum and baby are happt *that* is the most important factor
sorry i may have gone off on a waffling tangent there!!! x x x
Absolutely, a baby thrives when Mother is thriving, and anything that could upset that balance is not good!
I agree with you 100%!!
What on earth are the government thinking?
Just another ‘throw money at it and hope it improves/quick fix’ incentive that achieves nothing and causes more problems than it solves!
I couldn’t breastfeed either of my babies past 2 weeks, (first baby as my stitches got badly infected and I was on 21 tablets a day which weren’t all safe for baby, second baby as it made my depression so much worse that the health visitor told me to stop) if this would have been in place I would probably have felt even more useless!
Also, if parents start to conceal struggles with breastfeeding from health visitors and midwives so that they don’t lose their money, won’t their babies have weight gain issues, or parents ultimately suffer from listening to their hungry baby screaming all the time?
Thanks. I’m really sorry you had such horrid experiences after your babies where born.
Well written and perfectly argued post. There are whole areas of Sheffield where it just isn’t the ‘culture’ to BF. Literally, GP practices experience not low but minimal/zero uptake. As a society we need to change our whole attitude to BF, we need to bring it into the mainstream, make it acceptable. Women still BF in toilets because they don’t feel they can feed elsewhere. We don’t need to patronise mother’s with ‘shopping vouchers’. The is a huge strain on midwives already, this adds further ‘policing’ role. As you rightly point out doesn’t reflect the challenges there are to BF and the really pressure this can put on new mothers. That’s my friends climbing wall btw. Good isn’t it!
Why thank you. Climbing wall? Confused.
Cracking post, I was so annoyed when I heard the news, why not put the money into funding better lacatation consultants, training midwives etc. sometimes our government worries me greatly.
Plus what is Gemma going on about with the climbing wall? X