British Government Paying Mothers To Breastfeed But It Won’t Solve Logistical Issues

shutterstock_159937496In a collaboration between the British government and medical researchers, mothers in targeted areas will be offered up to £200 in shopping vouchers to encourage breastfeeding their babies. The pilot program is targeted at the financially poor areas of South Yorkshire and Derbyshire where breastfeeding is considered unfamiliar and strange as a community practice.  They hope to reverse that trend by enticing them with money, but it’s no guarantee for change.

Dr. Clare Relton, the Sheffield University expert leading the project, said she hoped the financial incentives would create a culture where breastfeeding was seen as the norm.

“It is a way of acknowledging both the value of breastfeeding to babies, mothers and society,” she added.

If a mother is on the fence, the incentive of money to buy groceries might push her over the edge to give nursing a real shot.  But otherwise it might just be throwing money out the window.

Janet Fyle, policy advisor to the Royal College of Midwives, said the reluctance to breastfeed amongst some mothers was a deeper cultural problem that would not easily be solved by handing out shopping vouchers.

“In many areas, including those in this study, there are generations of women who may not have seen anyone breastfeeding their baby, meaning it is not the cultural norm in many communities,” she said.

Even if the incentive puts breastfeeding “in vogue,” logistical issues are often a bigger obstacle.  With my first born I was home full-time and completely dedicated to the practice.  But I found it so much harder than I expected.  I had so many issues with oversupply in the first few weeks that I felt like a constant wet milk rag.  And then I experienced the joys of clogged ducts when I tried to stretch out his feedings.  It was a logistical nightmare for me and I almost gave up 100 times in those first few weeks.  No amount of money was going to help me figure out any of those issues.

With my second, I went back to work when she was 10 weeks old.  I was fortunate enough to afford a decent double pump and I was in a position where I had my own office (though it didn’t have a lock, which caused a couple of mortifying moments).  The silly lock thing aside, my circumstances were nothing short of ideal and it was still a challenge to pump enough milk to feed my daughter all day long and, you know, do my job.  I kept it up for over a year because I was insanely dedicated to nursing, but most normal people don’t have the mindset or opportunities to overcome those steep barriers.  The British incentive pales in comparison to the money some mothers need from their jobs.  If they go back to work, it might not be feasible to keep up the practice.

I’m less concerned with the morality of offering financial rewards to encourage health benefits, because I think if it works it’s a win-win: mothers are getting financial help and children are getting the benefits of breastmilk.  However, the financial incentives fall short of the education required to make significant change and the support to make it happen.

(photo: Lance Bellers/Shutterstock)

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  • Evelyn

    I believe that a health visitor (who is a qualified nurse trained in care of mums and babies) gives out the vouchers or signs the relevant forms so it is also a way to keep mums seeing the health visitor to get support with breastfeeding and other things. We already get free books for the baby through the health visitors as a way to encourage us to read with babies and also keep us making health visitor appointments. The government then gives every kid a bag of books through their nursery, playgroup or library at 3/4. The health visitors usually come as a home visit for younger babies. The vouchers are to be given in two loads, according to the bbc I think it was £120 for the first 6 weeks and £80 for the rest of the 6 months so many women who try hard but dry up after a couple of months will still get something. It is currently only for the poorer areas in the pilot region.

    The article on the BBC I read is here

  • jendra_berri

    I think it’s a rude and squalid waste of money, another tactic to relegate formula feeding moms into second class (No reward for you! I mean, it’s not like you could use money to help pay for formula or anything), and insulting to moms generally as though a shopping voucher could actually help make the choice to breastfeed or not (Well, I have been finding it painful, but shopping voucher! Yay!)
    Women choose feeding methods based on their own assessments of their lives, their bodies, their babies and any other variables. A shopping voucher is ridiculous.

    Know what wouldn’t be a waste of money? Channel those funds into free lactation consultations for any low-income mom who wants one. Offer a voucher for THAT instead. Send low-income moms in those poor areas home with said vouchers that they can use at their discretion. Allow them to gift them to other moms who may want them instead if they aren’t going to be used.

    You know, optional free education instead of coercion. Free shopping trips to the grocery store won’t do jack to make a mom (who knows nothing about how to breastfeed) get the job done.

    • Rachel Sea

      Because of their health care system, lactation consultants are already free.

    • Evelyn

      Yes, very much, although for some women all the lactation experts in the world won’t help and they need to be told that their baby will still b healthy and happy and that they are still good mums (although most of the nurses that do health visits to our house regularly when we have babies are sensible enough to do that too)

    • Rachel Sea

      It’s true, but making a person feel reassured about their parenting choices is the job of health professionals, not politicians. They are in the business of influencing public policy, and that’s what they are doing here. If they can undo the earlier governments’ influence that created these breastfeeding deserts with grocery vouchers, then great! It’ll save public aid from buying many families’ formula.

    • jendra_berri

      Oh man! That must be nice. I never saw one due to cost.

    • Rachel Sea

      Socialized medicine doesn’t suck.

    • jendra_berri

      I know. I’m a Canadian.

  • Emmali Lucia

    The thing too is in Britain women get a year off and I think six months or more of it is paid. I can’t remember the whole thing, but six months paid off with a baby and then a little extra spending money if they breast feed.

    I’m not sure how they police it though, that sounds unpleasant though… “BREAST FEED IN FRONT OF ME FOR MONEY.”

    • Bethany Ramos


    • Evelyn

      The health visitor is a specialist nurse who has extra qualifications in looking after babies and mothers and she comes to see us regularly in our own homes to check that mum and baby are OK and don’t need extra help. The breastfeeding would be in front of her at home.

    • brebay

      That’s exactly what it sounds like to me too!

  • brebay

    Hmmm.. just curious how they would enforce this, do they actually have to watch you do it or is it on the “honor system?”

    • Evelyn

      We get specialist nurses visit us in our own homes, they would check.

    • brebay

      I don’t know why, but that creeps me out a little, seems invasive. For the record, I’m totally pro-public breast-feeding, and don’t worry about my kid seeing a breast being used to feed a baby in public. There’s just something about someone saying “let me see,” that weirds me out a little, but I guess you have the option of not taking the money then.

    • Evelyn

      I agree totally. Also a few mums feel nervous about health visitors, worrying that they will report you for some imagined abuse of the baby even though they are genuinely there to help the baby. This could make health visitors seem even more invasive and more likely to be there to check up on you for some big brother state when really they are offering a great support service to new mums. At least it would be in your own home, but then that is part of the reason that new mums lacking confidence and full of hormones sometimes feel nervous about the visits.

  • Cheery

    You’re completely missing the point here. The question is not whether this can be reliably enforced or whether it’s efficient at increasing bf rates.
    This is about purposely separating mothers into ‘good’ and bad categories on the basis of a biological function they have no control over. Do we pay non-diabetics for producing their own insulin? What message does that send to moms who are on medication that doesn’t go with bf, those who have supply issues and most importantly those with postpartum depression ( often a compounding factor in bf problems)? “Bad mommy, no money for you! ”
    The fact that the amount is such a pittance compared to the physical and mental suffering from breastfeeding problems and the income these women would bring home if they worked and formula fed just adds more insult. It shows how little these lactivists really think of women.
    This is really a feminist issue. Shaming and pressuring vulnerable new moms about what to do with their own bodies. I was expecting better from mommyish!

    • Rachel Sea

      No one is talking about shaming anyone. There are benefits to breastfeeding which tie directly into government financial interests. Previous governments created this situation by coercing or forcing women in these communities to use formula. Bringing things back to a sensible balance is not going to happen without further intervention.

    • Evelyn

      I honestly don’t know where I stand on this. As a mum in the UK there is a lot of pressure and guilt to breast feed from the medical profession and especially amongst my middle-class university friends but half the kids in my children’s classes live in a council estate and far fewer of their mums breastfed and those that did stopped far sooner than my posher friends.

    • ChillMama

      I hear both what you and Cheery are saying. I am a big breast-feeding supporter who had to switch to formula because of major PPD issues. If, in the midst of my PPD haze, the decision to switch to formula also came with the ramification that my benefit would be revoked because I “gave-up” or “failed”, that might have done weird things to my psyche.

    • Evelyn

      It’s worse than that. This is only being offered to mums in poorer areas so they are saying breast is the only way AND poor people can’t be trusted to raise kids alone.

  • Shannon

    I don’t see a difference between this incentive and the “extra” food American breastfeeding moms in the WIC program get. You get presented with the option, you decide whether you want to go for it or not. I do think it would be optimal if they offered this bonus in conjunction with readily available lactation support and/or peer counseling. It takes more than some extra grocery money to change community norms.

    • skwrepb

      That “extra” food becomes cans of formula if you choose to formula feed. I think people are saying this program doesn’t have a balancing bit of assistance for women who don’t, or can’t, breastfeed.