According to a study by the University of Sheffield, mothers should be offered a cash incentive to encourage breastfeeding.
The scheme, which was launched in 2014, offered £120 in vouchers to new mothers who breastfed for six weeks, rising to £200 for those who continued for six months. More than 10,000 mothers across South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and North Nottinghamshire participated in the trial which saw an increase of 6% in areas where the scheme was offered, compared to areas where the scheme was not.
Overall, 46% of all eligible mothers signed up to the scheme and more than 40% claimed at least one voucher, paid for by research councils, medical charities and Public Health England.
Fiona, a participate in the trial, said being part of the scheme encouraged her to breastfeed, and to do so for longer:
“The scheme is a really good way of keeping going – keeping motivated to stay on track rather than giving up and going for the bottle. It provides little milestones, little stepping stones and helps you get breastfeeding established.”
Breastfeeding rates in the UK are some of the lowest in the world with a national average of around 34% at 6 months, and a unbelievably low 0.5% at 12 months. Compare that to a similar country, such as the US, and they show figures of around 27% at 12 months.
So clearly something has to change.
But is giving out cash really the answer to help promote breastfeeding?
On paper, the first answer to this really has to be a yes, as clearly the study shows an increase in breastfeeding rates, if even it does come via what some may regard as a bribe. But if it increases the UKs rates, and ultimately makes mother feel supported, then of course it’s a great thing. But is money the main reason that women stop breastfeeding in the first place? To that, I’d argue that it isn’t.
For a start, formula feeding a baby is obviously more expensive than breastfeeding. So if this was purely a money based choice, then breastfeeding would likely be the obvious answer.
The study also found the following:
“Eight out of 10 mothers in the UK who start to breastfeed stop before they really want to.”
So the question there should be why did they stop? For me, like most things in life, it comes down to multiple reasons. These can be anything ranging from discomfort, poor latching, being unable to take medication and physical inability like tongue-tie, which effects around 4-11% of newborns.
Then there are much more complex issues like societal norms discouraging breastfeeding; either through lack of public acceptance, or presence in the media, a lack of support from friends and family, a lack of education on breastfeeding and it’s health benefits, or maybe it even stems from health visitors and midwives not wanting to push breastfeeding too much and receive backlash for it. And then there’s also our Western philosophy that encourage more independence; and for the mother to ‘regain her previous life’ and for a baby to do things like sleep through the night, something that breastfeeding doesn’t encourage, which is how nature clearly intended it.
Does It Really Matter?
It all comes down to this question. There’s a large proportion of the population that clearly feel that it doesn’t really matter if a baby gets breast milk or formula milk. They simply go with the phrase “fed is best.” And to a certain point, they’re right. But fed isn’t really best. Breast is best, and fed is just the next, and perfectly fine option. You wouldn’t go to a nutritionist for advice and simply accept them saying “as long as you eat something you’ll be fine,” so why do the same with a baby?
I could easily list a whole host of reasons why breast milk is better, but instead, the NHS has you covered. Suffice to say, it ranges from reducing risks, of both mother and baby, increased protection from illness and disease, and a reduction in the chances of SIDS.
And yes, there are many, many reasons why women chose not to breast feed, but these figures show that 81% of mothers have tried breastfeeding, and 8 out of 10 stopped doing it before they wanted to. So clearly there’s something amiss between the want and attempt, and the actual rates of breastfeeding.
At the end of the day, it is a woman’s choice as to whether she breastfeeds or not. And a babies health, as well as the mothers, comes first. If breastfeeding is causing problems on both accounts, then there’s nothing wrong with stopping it. But it isn’t usually a case of someone being unable to do it. It’s often a choice. Whether they wanted to make that choice or not, or whether they felt unsupported on their journey, it’s usually still a choice. I personally don’t believe that there are that many women out there who can’t physically breastfeed. If there were then we wouldn’t see figures in the high 95+ percent range from poor countries. So there must be more to it as to why many women in the UK don’t actually breastfeed.
No, the vast majority of the time, women simply choose bottle over breast in some way. And that’s ok. This isn’t about shaming those who chose the bottle, it’s about encouraging new mothers to breastfeed. Something I feel this country clearly needs to do a lot more of.