Breastfeeding levels in the UK are among the lowest in the world, but can that stat be improved simply by offering a cash incentive? A new trial is claiming that it can help.
Conducted by the University of Sheffield and the University of Dundee and funded by the National Prevention Research Initiative and Public Health England, more than 10,000 new mothers across South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and north Nottinghamshire were offered shopping vouchers worth up to £200 as an incentive to breastfeed. The vouchers could be spent in supermarkets and the Love2Shop site, where they could be redeemed at places like Champneys spas and New Look.
Over a year, 32 per cent of the 5,000 women offered normal care were breastfeeding at eight weeks, compared with 38 per cent of the 5,000 women that were offered vouchers. This increased to 41 per cent by the end of the trial according to the data published in the JAMA Pediatrics journal. Clare Relton, who led the study at the University of Sheffield, commented. “Mothers reported that they felt rewarded for breastfeeding.”
The reaction to the findings has been mixed though. While some public health workers commented that the vouchers made breastfeeding “more normal” in areas where women were embarrassed about it, other doctors and midwives have questioned whether financially incentivising breastfeeding is the right way to go. Gill Walton, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives for instance commented: “The motive for breastfeeding cannot be rooted by offering financial reward. It has to be something that a mother wants to do in the interest of the health and wellbeing of her baby.”
Furthermore, some experts have also been sceptical due to the fact that the study could not prove that the women actually breastfed. “The researchers’ primary outcome measure is based to a considerable extent on what mothers tell their healthcare professionals about how they are feeding their babies,” Kevin McConway, the emeritus professor of applied statistics at the Open University, told The Guardian . “That applies to all the mothers in the areas where vouchers were available, not just those who chose to sign up for the vouchers, but the existence of the voucher scheme may make it more likely that mothers mention to healthcare professionals that they have been breastfeeding. So we can’t be sure that all of the difference between areas with and without vouchers is because of real differences in breastfeeding.”
Breastfeeding's driven by more than financial gain - the methods used don’t really provide the level of support required by new mothers in this regard. Plus, the prospect of being ‘rewarded’ for it, seems pretty off to us. Especially for mothers who aren’t able to breastfeed or are having extreme difficulty in doing so. It somehow suggests that those who don’t, are choosing not to, when we all know that the area’s a lot more personal and sensitive than that - does it mean that they should be ‘punished’ by not being deemed eligible for financial prizes? That sort of scheme around something so complex doesn’t sit well with us.