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.