Breastfeeding levels increased in areas of England when new mums were offered cash incentives to do so, but some parents aren’t convinced this is the answer to boosting low national rates.
A scheme launched in 2014 offering £120 in vouchers to new mums who breastfed for six weeks, rising to £200 for those who continued for six months.
Since then, more than 10,000 new mothers across South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and north Nottinghamshire have been part of the scheme.
The results, shared by the University of Sheffield and the University of Dundee, showed a 6% increase in the number of women breastfeeding in areas where the scheme was offered (38%), compared with areas where the scheme was not available (32%).
Women reported that the vouchers were an incentive to continue breastfeeding.
Principal investigator Dr Clare Relton, from the University of Sheffield’s School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR), said: “The trial found a significant increase in breastfeeding rates in areas where the scheme was offered.
“Eight out of 10 mothers in the UK who start to breastfeed stop before they really want to.
“It seems that the voucher scheme helped mothers to breastfeed for longer. Mothers reported they felt rewarded for breastfeeding.”
However some people aren’t convinced that cash incentives were the right way to increase breastfeeding rates.
Andrew Whitelaw, the emeritus professor of neonatal medicine at the University of Bristol, told the Guardian: “This is a pioneering trial tackling the important problem of low breastfeeding rates in low-income areas in the UK.
“However, the trial design could not avoid the possibility that an economically deprived mother would be tempted to report she was breastfeeding (when she was not) in order to receive a £200 reward.”
Many parents were also against the scheme, for different reasons.
Sharing her views on HuffPost UK Parents Facebook, mum Adele Foley questioned whether this scheme isolated mums who can’t breastfeed.
“I wanted to breastfeed but couldn’t,” she wrote.
“I tried for two weeks pumping, but it turned out my daughter had milk allergy. So should I miss out? At the end of day I fed my child. That’s the main thing.”
Another mum, Marie Ruffell, agreed, writing: “Offering cash incentives is missing the point and puts too much pressure on an already emotional and tough situation. Invest the money in support services and practical information.
“Breastfeeding is the most natural way of feeding, but if it doesn’t work out after trying to resolve any issues, no one should be feeling they failed when there’s so much more to being a mum than just feeding.”
There’s so much more to being a mum than just feeding.”A mum commenting on Facebook.
Others felt that this scheme just promoted the “pressure” to breastfeed.
“As long as baby is fed either by breast or bottle that’s all that matters,” wrote Amanda Blainey. “This angers me that there is more media pressure to breastfeed.
“We should be encouraging mothers to be proud and do what’s right for them and for their baby. Putting this stress onto them isn’t fair.”
Mum Catherine Wetton said: “If a woman chooses to bottle feed for whatever reason, she shouldn’t be discriminated against.
“This also discriminates against families where a child has two dads or if the mother is too ill to breastfeed/can’t because of meds or has died.”
It is not yet known whether this scheme will roll out in different areas across the UK, but co-author Mary Renfrew, Professor of Mother and Infant Health at the University of Dundee, said: “We now know much more about what might work to help new mothers to breastfeed.”