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.