4,000 new mothers in the UK will be offered shopping vouchers if they breastfeed their babies, as part of a full-scale trial. In a pilot study involving over 100 Mums in Derbyshire and South Yorkshire, two thirds of women who signed up to the scheme were claiming the vouchers at six to eight weeks, a breastfeeding rate higher than the national average.
Ladies taking part in the trial received up to £200 to spend at shops such as John Lewis, Matalan, Argos and big supermarkets if health professionals confirmed they were feeding their babies breast milk. Researchers hope the scheme will boost Britain’s breastfeeding rate, improving children’s health and cutting costs for the NHS. The World Health Organisation recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed until the age of six months, but only 1 per cent of British babies meet this target.
What are the pros and cons of the scheme? It’s reported that some NHS staff are uneasy about “bribing” mothers, saying they should be offered support instead of cash. Cathy Warwick of the Royal College of Midwives said “Incentivising public health behaviour through monetary reward will always be contentious. However, the RCM believes that alternative ways of increasing breastfeeding rates also need attention.”
Some mums stop breastfeeding for circumstances they feel are beyond their control (not producing enough milk to satisfy baby, or because of exhaustion breastfeeding can lead to if unsupported, for example). This in turn can lead to some new Mums feeling guilty that they are no longer breastfeeding- will this be compounded by feeling that they are now missing out on vouchers?
On the other hand, the financial incentive may increase breastfeeding rates, which must be a good thing overall- certainly the case study suggests this willl be the case.
Where will the money comes from? Would the money be better spent on breastfeeding support services? Why are the vouchers not available to spend in independent local shops? Why should only the ‘big’ businesses benefit from the increased purchasing power of these parents? For example, new Mums wouldn’t be able to use their vouchers to buy a Baby Feed Wheel to help keep track for their baby’s feed times from Chiggs or from one of our lovely independent stockists, so they would miss out on this useful piece of breastfeeding assistance!