Breastfeeding rates in the UK aren’t exactly the best. Whilst many women want to try breastfeeding when they first have their baby, only 0.5% of them manage to get to the one year mark. According to a study by the University of Sheffield, mothers should be offered cash in order to promote breastfeeding. So I’m here to ask one very simple question:
Is Offering Cash to Promote Breastfeeding Really the Answer?
The scheme, which was launched in 2014, offered £120 in vouchers to new mothers who breastfed for six weeks. It rose 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. It then 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. Then more than 40% claimed at least one voucher, paid for by research councils, medical charities and Public Health England.
“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.”Fiona, a participate in the trial
Breastfeeding rates in the UK are some of the lowest in the world with a national average of around 34% at 6 months. Moving past that, we have an 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.
But Is Offering Cash to Promote Breastfeeding Really The Answer?
On paper, the first answer to this really has to be a resounding yes. Clearly the study shows an increase in breastfeeding rates, even if it does come via what some may regard as a bribe. But if it increases the UKs rates, and ultimately makes a 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, and 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 encourages more independence. It almost calls out for a 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 whether we increase breastfeeding rates?
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 just being fed isn’t really best. 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 breastfeed. 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 the attempt, and then the actual rates of breastfeeding.
I don’t care what you pick. I just want more women who want to breastfeed to be able to breastfeed
At the end of the day, it is a woman’s choice as to whether she breastfeeds or not. My wife chose to do it, and all I did was support her the best I could. A baby’s health, as well as the mothers, should always come 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 physically unable to do it. Women usually stop breastfeeding because they’re unsupported, they lack the information they need or maybe they just feel judged. But offering a cash incentive isn’t going to solve those issues. All the cash incentive is doing is giving those on the fence an added reason to keep it up.
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. Admittedly those countries don’t really have a choice. And when you’re faced with very little choice I dare say you’ll find a way to make it work. But those countries also see breastfeeding as the norm. So they’re surrounded with people who are supportive and people who have done it. Something the UK is massively lacking.
In essence, the cash incentive might have helped to increase the breastfeeding rates somewhat. But it is by no means the answer.