Incentivised Breastfeeding

Incentives: An incentive is something that motivates an individual to perform an action.

This morning I awoke to the news that in the UK they are trialling giving mothers vouchers in exchange for them agreeing to breastfeed their children. Incentivising them to do something that we all know is best for our babies, for we’re told often enough. Bribing mothers to perhaps make choices they’re not comfortable with or have no control over, thus adding to the pressure and guilt of parenting. I assume all babies born in the area where this is being trialled behave themselves and enable their mothers to gain financially…someone sent all unborn babies a memo about this right?

Yes I’m being deliberately obtuse because as a mother of three children who has both breast, formula and mixed fed I’m horrified at the suggestion. I’m appalled that the government is attempting to bribe mothers to do something they may not be able to, or want to do. And whilst I can’t fully understand why someone would choose not to breastfed, I believe everyone has a choice. Do I think more mums should be encouraged to choose to breastfeed…yes! But do I think this should be done through a finical incentive…no!

Breastfeeding is a divisive subject and one that all mothers have very strong opinions about. As I see it often those who found it easy claim it’s the most natural thing in the world and are dumbfounded as to why everyone doesn’t do it. Yes they say it hurt, yes they say it’s hard work, but they did it so why doesn’t everybody? Then there are the mums who choose not to and are vehement in their belief that they are good mothers in spite of this. Why should how we feed our children determine what kind of parent we are? And then there are those who desperately want to breastfeed, who struggle and try everything and yet, for many reasons, can’t. I’ve been all of the above mums at some point in my parenting journey.

When my daughter was born 12 years ago I exclusively breastfed. Ironically she is the only one of my children with asthma and eczema, but that’s another story. There was never any doubt in my mind that I would breastfeed, I was a single parent and it was bloody hard work, but I did it exclusively until a lorry drove into the back of my car and the stress of the hideous accident caused my milk production to disappear instantaneously. Back then whenever I breastfed in public it was sat on the toilet, in a cubicle and out of sight. It wasn’t discussed it was just what we all did, and it was lonely, uncomfortable and boring, not to mention particularly unsanitary. Times have changed and with both of my boys I breastfed in public, but it wasn’t always welcomed and I think that before we judge as to why people don’t want to breastfeed and incentivise them to do it with money, we need to look at changing opinions of breastfeeding in public and in general. We need to make it fully acceptable. I was out for lunch with a new mum the other day who I didn’t know very well and she kept apologising every time she breastfed her baby, and this made me so incredibly sad. Why did she feel the need to apologise all of the time, who had made her feel that what she was doing needed an apology? And would paying her to breastfeed her child change the way she felt she was viewed? I doubt it.

Let’s look at why people don’t breastfeed exclusively for 6 months as is recommended. There are many reasons and for something supposedly so natural, Mother Nature certainly doesn’t make it easy at times. Cracked nipples, engorgement, mastitis and many more delights can make breastfeeding hard, painful and unpleasant. My middle child had very bad reflux, and once vomited blood after a feed, turns out it was my blood and not his. There are also difficulties faced by parents of children with tongue ties or cleft palate. At the end of the day, our role as a mum is only half of the breastfeeding story, the baby plays a part too; and for some, breastfeeding is sadly never going to work. Thank goodness there is an alternative! There seems to be a trend on social media this morning in response to the news report, saying that formula should only be available on prescription for those who can’t feed…taking away choice and adding to guilt. And just how malnourished would your baby need to get before it was deemed that breastfeeding was not a viable option. How desperate would the mother be at this point, how much of a failure would she feel and what lengths would she go to? It’s a disgusting idea and one that actually makes me angry at anyone who suggests it. Have the people suggesting this struggled or not been able to breastfeed? Have they been there, do they know how it feels? Or are people assuming things and judging others again instead of trying to empathise, support and see things from another persons perspective? Formula feeding mums are made to feel guilty enough as it is. Will formula feeding become illegal next?

I think if there is money spare to invest in breastfeeding mums then that money could be spent so much better than on vouchers, for sadly some children aren’t fed at all. And the more I write this post the more I realise that there is a much wider issue here and one that I cannot even attempt to cover in just blog post. Could the money be spent on support? On enabling mothers returning to work to continue to breastfeed somehow? On making breastfeeding in public accepted? Let’s be honest, mums don’t give up breastfeeding because of financial difficulties so why incentivise them with vouchers? Why should we be paid to feed our children?

This debate is still very much going on and who knows I may add to this blog post later.

What’s your opinion?

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16 thoughts on “Incentivised Breastfeeding

  1. Brilliant post, exceptionally well written. It’s such a huge topic, and one that is going to get people very emotive, I agree with you, the wider issue is far to huge for a blog post. What you have written here though is fabulous.

  2. There are lots of babies out there that are malnourished because they have heartless lazy parents. These are the mothers that should be breastfeeding because once established they can feed the child as soon as they are hungry. Formula feeding was relentless at first in the non emotional ways. You can be sterilising at 3am when your baby is having a growth spurt and for the mums that this incentive is aimed at they wouldn’t bother they would probably give the baby milk made of water straight out of the tap which is so bad for their tummies using bottles that are festering milk bacteria. Breastfeeding would take that away but bribing them with shopping vouchers seriously?! I haven’t breast fed but I know that it is an emotional task that to be honest I don’t think these lazy mothers would have the heart to do. So what they need isn’t shopping vouchers but the support to make breastfeeding work for them. I find the way that the information is going out there about the subject is misinforming people. My boy will turn out fine because we fed him the formula way correctly. They shouldn’t make it seem that breast is bed and if you formula feed your children are going to be unhealthy. It’s really heartbreaking for vulnerable mums who can’t breast feed to read this kind of thing

  3. I love this post – it absolutely hits the nail on the head.

    Do we really have nothing better to spend our money on than shopping vouchers for breastfeeding mums?! Many women are unable to breastfeed for very valid reasons and should not be penalised for it, and many women choose not to breastfeed – this does not make them an inferior mother? Yes breastfeeding is great – but surely there is a wider issue of engagement of young mothers in Sheffield and Derby and just shoving some shopping vouchers at them does not address this. There used to be some great programmes for young mothers that addressed precisely these issues, and saw breastfeeding rates soar, but the Government, in their quest for austerity disbanded them. Is it coming back to bite them?! #bringbackbusymummy

  4. Yup, agree the money could be much better spent. Breastfeeding brings it’s own financial rewards anyway, I don’t own bottles, sterilisers nor did I have to buy expensive formula. I am one of the lucky ones you speak of, I found it easy (although did develop a nasty access as a result of mastitis- so it wasn’t all plane sailing!) Plenty of Mums would love to feed and for many reasons are unable to, more money for lactation services, or just generally for the overwhelmed maternity services would serve breastfeeding better I feel. Also I agree, breastfeeding in public needs more support, and I also I don’t want to see non-breast feeding mothers maligned because they either can’t or choose not to use that method of Feeding.

  5. Ellie says:

    Excellent post. I didn’t breast feed my eldest as he was born at 32 weeks so was premature, he developed Neonatal necrotising enter colitis, had an infancy plagued by inner ear infections and just this last year battled with childhood cancer (he’s now 17) I don’t need any more guilt as to why he’s suffered with poor health, I already feel horrendous. Luckily I was able to feed my 2 younger children myself. Shopping vouchers would’ve played no role in my decisions….. Being a mum is hard enough without this bribery and blame adding to the mix x

  6. Sarah says:

    No amount of money could have helped me breastfeed. The incredible support from local maternity hospital & children centre however did, and I’m delighted to be exclusive bf 3 mths on…I cannot praise the Maternity Support Workers enough.

  7. sarahmo3w says:

    Fantastic post. The whole subject of incentivising breastfeeding is a minefield. Like you I hid myself away when I fed my now 12 year old, but I was out and proud when I had my 10 year old! I think breastfeeding in public is generally far more accepted than it was 12 years ago. But as you rightly say there are so many other issues for mums.

  8. Kate says:

    While I kind of understand the thinking behind offering these incentives (as I’m sure there WILL be some people who’ll breastfeed just to get the vouchers), its education and support that will raise breastfeeding rates, not financial advantages! Society needs to both stop frowning on breastfeeding in public, but also needs to not stigmatise formula-feeding mums either! Lets spend the money on education and support instead. Let’s support a mothers choice on how she feeds her baby…..support/education to get through the difficulties of breastfeeding, or how to make up bottles the correct and safe way instead of perpetuating this constant and very devisive and detrimental breast/bottle debate.

  9. stephaniearsoska says:

    I am not cross about this. I am cross about the way the media is reporting it. This is a trial university study involving 130 women from socially deprived areas where breastfeeding is seen in a negative light. It’s just a trial, a small trial, not a government policy. The bloody press love to whip mothers up and get them snarling at each other. I aint biting.

  10. Really interesting post, thank you. I agree with Stephanie above about the reporting; it’s been deliberately cast as a contentious issue. I blogged today about why this just might work to some extent in the specific circumstances we have in Derbyshire – but completely understand the feelings and concerns that have been stirred up today by the media frenzy. http://thethoughtfulpublisher.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/breastfeeding-incentives-in-media.html

  11. I totally agree. I was the Mum who couldn’t breastfeed. I think if I had persevered I could have done, but I was an emotional wreck. I had lost my Mum to cancer just 3 days before Sophie was born. I hadn’t slept in a week, and poor Sophie was starving, so I caved and gave her some formula. My nipples were sore and bleeding at this point, it was around 7am in the morning. When the midwife came she did offer me additional support, but also totally supported my decision to formula feed. Why shouldn’t I have been able to get formula? Sophie certainly hasn’t suffered at all, she is healthy and happy and maintained a good weight throughout. I feel that if I had continued to struggle to feed her, and failed, it would have been too much for me to cope with. No-one has the right to make me feel guilty for a decision that I made with my daughters best interests, a decision that in the long term has had no negative impact on her!!! This whole idea has enraged me.

  12. I tried to breastfeed my son when he was born. Unfortunately, I wasn’t producing enough milk so I had to go on to bottle feed him. He’s a healthy, happy 8 year old now and my twins (who were also bottle fed) are also happy and healthy bright children. I think the whole idea of paying mothers to breastfeed, is a sure fire way of putting more pressure on Mums, at an already very stressful time.

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