Bribed To Breastfeed? We Can Do Better Than That

14/08/2014 16:55 | Updated 22 May 2015


So new mums are being 'bribed to breastfeed' with £200 vouchers in a controversial trial scheme.

The idea is a worthy one – to try to get more mothers to breastfeed their children. But is it the right way of going about it?

After all, breastfeeding already comes with its own in-built financial incentive, in that it doesn't cost anything - apart from the additional cake that you need to eat, obviously.

So what are the alternatives to offering bribes to women? Are there better ways to spend this money? I can think of a few ideas...

• We could spend the money on more training for health visitors, who seem to be able to say whatever they like to new mums, whether it's spouting a theory that was once popular for 10 minutes in the 1950s or blithely telling women that they won't be able to feed their baby because he or she is too big.

It shouldn't be the luck of the draw whether you get a good, sensible health visitor or one that's barking mad. And there do seem to be quite a few barking mad ones...

• We could put more money into midwifery. We could pay midwives more, and employ more of them, and support them so that they're not so horrendously overworked and stretched.

One in four midwives is thinking of quitting, according to research from the Royal College of Midwives yesterday. If there were more midwives perhaps new mums wouldn't be slung over to the health visitors quite so quickly. Perhaps antenatal and postnatal care would improve and women wouldn't feel so much in the dark.

• We could pay ordinary breastfeeding mums to go into every antenatal class, whip their breasts out and show expectant mothers how it works. Let them have a really close look. I'm sure mums would be happy to help. All it takes is a bit of organisation.

We need people to be honest and open about breastfeeding so that women (and men) don't think it's 'disgusting'. We also need to hear fewer stories about women being chucked out of cafes and barred from restaurants for feeding their children. Yes, it's terrible that these things still happen at all, and companies should be named and shamed when they do. But we also need to hear positive stories from women who have breastfed in public regularly and never had any 'funny looks' or been bothered by anybody.

• We could give more support to new, first-time mothers who are terrified in case they're starving their children because breastfeeding isn't working properly. We could pay for more breastfeeding counsellors who can actually spend time with mums to make sure they get the hang of 'latching on', instead of giving them a garbled 10 minutes in hospital before they leave.

We could support mums who want to mix feed instead of giving them dire warnings about how it won't work. We could actually be helping the mums who do want to breastfeed, but are finding it difficult.

• We could pay for longer-term breastfeeding advice, teaching women how to use those godforsaken torture devices otherwise known as breast pumps, so that they can get a bit more personal freedom without stopping breastfeeding altogether. Teaching women how they can continue breastfeeding when they return to work, if they want to.

• Then we need to put more thought into the messages we're giving to women. We need less happy-clappy nonsense about what a beautiful bonding experience breastfeeding is (so women who don't breastfeed don't bond with their babies? Er, no) and more practical advice about how much easier and cheaper it is to stick a baby on the breast in the middle of the night than to get up and sterilize a bottle.

Yes, it would be nice if more mums could breastfeed. The health benefits are clear, and breastfeeding rates in Britain are among the worst in the world.

But will bribing mums with £200 even work? It might convince a handful, but it doesn't seem like a huge amount of money to change an entire mindset.

We'll have to wait and see the results of the trials – if they're successful, it's likely to be rolled out across the country.

If not, I expect it will quietly disappear, along with the cash.

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