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What’s the going rate for breastfeeding?

Breast milk is one commodity that doesn’t cost anything – but that doesn’t seem to have increased its popularity in these cash-strapped times.

According to DoH statistics, the prevalence of breastfeeding in England at six to eight weeks in 2012/2013 was just over 47 per cent of infants, roughly the same as recorded in 2011/2012. In European and global terms that is pretty low.

Now the Government is offering a financial incentive for new mothers to breastfeed with a pilot scheme launched in areas of Sheffield and Chesterfield where breastfeeding levels are particularly low. Mothers who succeed in breastfeeding for six weeks are in line for £120- worth of vouchers while those who sail past the six-month finishing post will pick up a £200 jackpot. It will be down to midwives and health visitors to verify this progress, and create a new ‘culture’ where breastfeeding is seen as the norm.

Somehow this scenario makes me feel a little sad – not least because it smacks of desperation.  Breastfeeding is an emotive issue and the reward of vouchers seems cynical– consumer rather than culturally or emotionally led. But if it works, then that’s fine. But will it?

The trouble with breastfeeding is that there is still a bit of a myth that it just happens. As most of us who have done this thing will know, it takes commitment and perserverance (quite a lot) and in many cases it also needs easy access to professional and friendly support. Aren’t these the issues that matter most?

I was interested to find out what members of the NW Linkedin group thought about the vouchers and received some very interesting responses.

‘No this is ridiculous!’ What about all those mothers who have been breastfeeding until now for the good of their child – will they get vouchers retrospectively?’ wailed one.

Another pointed out that breastfeeding vs bottle is a personal choice and that she personally had felt great guilt in not being physically able to do it.  Would not vouchers compound this guilt?

Some particularly pertinent points were made by a teacher and childminder. She herself had struggled to find support groups for breastfeeding mums, especially multiples. She said, ‘The money would be better spent on educating mums of the benefits but also providing support groups to aid in distinguishing myths from facts’.

So there we have it. I believe shopping vouchers have a chance of succeeding if they are offered alongside a range of support. Let’s hope it happens and that vouchers will be among the least of the rewards for all those who succeed.


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