Under proposals for a new scheme to increase breastfeeding rates in the UK, new mums could see themselves effectively being paid to breastfeed, as they receive vouchers worth up to £200 ($320) for successfully breastfeeding to six months.
Most people already know that breast is best, but one problem is many people are simply unable to breastfeed their babies for a variety of reasons. Some of these are genuine medical reasons and some are, I’m sure, down to lack of support or misinformation. The mums I’ve spoken to in these situations didn’t want to breastfeed for money, they wanted to do it because they know it’s best for their babies, and it broke their hearts when they could not continue. This incentive risks increasing feelings of guilt and depression to those mums who were unsuccessful.
For me (a breastfeeding mum of nearly two years), of course, receiving a reward for doing something I was going to do anyway is always nice, but I know from experience that support for breastfeeding has been cut in many areas of the UK due to a lack of funding. I feel strongly that this money could be put to far better use by first, educating existing healthcare professionals on providing consistent breastfeeding support in all areas of the country and, secondly, providing more desperately needed support staff.
My own case highlights why support is so vital. My daughter was born at a low weight, had jaundice and was too weak to latch properly. She lost over 15% of her body weight in five days but, thanks to some wonderful support, we got through it; I was able to breastfeed her and still am. At the time I was a mess, I felt huge guilt at having to supplement while I increased my supply and relied greatly on the professionals who helped me. The fact that I stay in touch with one of the nurses who helped me and know that she was made redundant due to funding cuts six months ago makes me concerned that other mums may not receive the help I did. With so many mums desperate to breastfeed, this is where the money is really needed.
On the other side of the coin, I can see the thinking behind this proposal. If there are people on the fence about whether to give breastfeeding a go and the incentive encourages them, that’s great, but I still believe there are far better long term uses for the money. Besides, breastfeeding already saves mums a small fortune over the cost of formula, so, if you were looking at it from a purely financial standpoint, the incentive’s already there.
I do feel that the problem with breastfeeding rates in the UK is not the absence of a desire to breastfeed, it’s the lack of support and education that makes it possible. The fact breastfeeding rates start off high and then quickly fall only goes to highlight the fact that ongoing support is needed and my plea to the government and NHS would be please consider investing this money in helping mums not only start but continue breastfeeding.