We’ve seen a lot of incentives to encourage breastfeeding rates, but this is the first one I’ve seen that included a shopping voucher. Yes, you read that right; women are being offered a total of £200 in shopping vouchers if they breastfeed their babies.
Two specific communities – South Yorkshire and Derbyshire – are being targeted for the pilot project, which is being funded through a collaboration between the government and the medical research sector. Both areas have extremely low breastfeeding rates, compared to the rest of the country (1 in 4 mothers in these areas compared to 55% nationally are breastfeeding at eight weeks).
A third area, which will only include 130 women expecting a baby between now and March, is expected to be added as well. Though no real specifics about the third area have been released at this time, it has been said that a nationwide pilot could roll out in England sometime next year if the initial pilot projects prove to be successful.
This isn’t the first time that the government has offered financial incentives to encourage people in the UK to get healthier; there have been incentives in the past for quitting smoking and for losing weight. However, this is the first large-scale financial incentive for breastfeeding.
Vouchers given to breastfeeding moms can be used at supermarkets and high street shops. To qualify for the full £200, they will have to breastfeed for six months. However, a portion of those vouchers – £120 – will be awarded at six weeks postpartum if they manage to breastfeed until that time.
According to the team behind the project, the effort is a cause of health inequalities among these deprived communities. They cite the numerous studies that have shown breastfeeding to provide everything from fewer digestion issues to fewer infections for nursing infants.
“It is a way of acknowledging both the value of breastfeeding to babies, mothers and society,” Sheffield University expert Dr. Clare Relton, who is leading the project, told BBC News. She added that the goal is to create a culture in which breastfeeding is seen as the norm.
But not everyone is excited about the project. Obviously, there are some concerns and controversy surrounding the incentive. Some wonder how you can possibly verify whether or not an infant is being breastfed. Couldn’t a mother just lie and say she’s breastfeeding to collect her vouchers? It is possible, but because women do have to see a midwife or other health official to verify breastfeeding, the chances of collecting without actually breastfeeding are a little less likely. Nurses or midwives can watch for tell-tale signs of a breastfeeding infant (rooting at the breast, for example).
But then there’s the issue of whether or not it’s “ethical” to “bribe” women to breastfeed. Shouldn’t it be something that a mother wants to do for her infant? Some believe so.
“The motive for breastfeeding cannot be rooted by offering financial reward,” Janet Fyle, of the Royal College of Midwives, told BBC News. “It has to be something that a mother wants to do in the interest of the health and well-being of her child.”
Fyle believes that the answer lies in making sure that there is enough staff and support available to new mothers in both the hospitals and in the community.
What do you think? How do you feel about the financial incentive? Do you believe there is a better way to encourage breastfeeding in some of these deprived communities? How so? We’d love to hear your thoughts.
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