Have you seen the most recent news about the results of a pilot scheme which sees mothers given up to £200 to breastfeed? The five-year trial saw moms in certain parts of the country given £120 in vouchers for certain shops if they said they were breastfeeding when their baby was six weeks old, and a further £80 if they were six months on
The experts are now recommending this be rolled out in a bid to up our breastfeed rates which are, when compared to the rest of the world, pretty shocking. Now let me start by saying I’m absolutely in favour of boob milk. If you can feed your baby and they’re happy and you’re happy then great! But this idea of paying people to do it makes me absolutely fuming! Seriously. My husband mentioned this story to me a couple of hours ago and I’ve been seething about it ever since. I think it’s disgraceful to essentially punish people (by not giving them the same financial opportunities as others) for something that could be entirely out of their control.
What about the mother who desperately wants to breastfeed and has spent days, weeks or even months trying to get their baby to latch on but they just won’t? (I had a baby who had six days of INTENSIVE breastfeeding support in hospital. Every single person who worked in the hospital she was born in had a go at trying to get her to latch, and she was just useless at it bless her. She was losing weight, she was in danger of becoming jaundice again and both she and I were pretty unhappy. Should I have stuck at it and potentially endangered her health?)
What about mothers who have conditions which mean they can’t breastfeed, or who are on medication that prevents them from doing so safely? Shall we just encourage people to delay their chemo for six months so they can get an Argos voucher? Or come off their antidepressants at the most vulnerable time of their life so they can pick up something nice from Debenhams?
What about those for whom breastfeeding, or the thought of doing so, has a completely negative effect on their mental health? I am absolutely all for breastfeeding where possible, but if it’s going to make you poorly doing it (or trying to do it) then you have to think about the long term health of yourself and your baby because clearly if you’re unwell that’s going to have an impact on them.
What about those who have to return to work really quickly after having their baby to support their family, perhaps if they’re not eligible for maternity pay or can’t afford to live on it, if dad isn’t around or is unable to work? Yes ideally you’d work somewhere where it would be possible to continue to breastfeed or express but we all know that’s not always feasible.
What about those who are simply too physical unwell to breastfeed? ‘Sorry you were in a coma six weeks after your baby was born but you REALLY should have tried harder to keep feeding her. No voucher for you!’ Yes, it’s extreme, but it does happen. I have heard SO many stories in the last two years about women who have been pushed to the brink physically by carrying and birthing their child so for them, whilst a lovely year-long breastfeeding journey that came to a end naturally when baby decided to wean would have been ideal, it’s just not possible to do it.
I can think of so many more examples where mom may really want to breastfeed but not be able to get to that six month, or even six week, mark. It may be easy to look at it as a simple choice of ‘I want to breastfeed’ or ‘I want to formula feed’ but I think in the majority of cases it’s much more complicated than that.
I also slightly object to the thought that we may need to give financial incentives to people. We’ve all seen the facts, breastfeeding has many benefits. If it works then it’s great (and let’s face it, you’re already getting the financial benefit of not buying formula or bottles or sterilising equipment), but you should want to do it because you’re aware of the advantages not because you’ve seen a new coat you’d like to buy with the vouchers.
Why aren’t we putting that money towards educating people about the benefits of breastfeeding?
Why aren’t we putting that money towards having more support for people who desperately want to breastfeed but can’t?
My other questions are: what about combi feeding? We seem to concentrate so much on the whole BF/FF debate but do you still get the money if you’re combi feeding like we are? Do you get a percentage of the money depending how much breast milk your baby has?
And who’s checking whether these people actually are breastfeeding? Have we got spies sitting in the local Starbucks checking who’s got a boob out? Or hiding in people’s wheelie bins peeking through their window to check if they’re sneakily making up a bottle of formula?
What a truly sad state of affairs if the only way to drive up breastfeeding statistics is to throw a bit of cash at people!
Harriet, Alexandra and Max x