In 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.