Breastfeeding Vouchers? I Vouch For Feeding Equality

Stop the pressure on exhausted new mums and turn it on the policymakers and politics to enable women to achieve their feeding goal

On Tuesday 12th December, the Victoria Derbyshire programme featured a segment dedicated to discussing the idea of offering new mothers financial incentives for breastfeeding. They wanted the opinions from women who would be directly affected if this scheme was rolled out nationally.

Here’s the background:

New research from the University of Sheffield and the University of Dundee has found rewarding breastfeeding mothers with monetary vouchers at various stages may significantly increase low breastfeeding rates. The study offered shopping vouchers worth up to £120 if their babies received breastmilk (breastfeeding or expressed milk) at two days, 10 days and six weeks old. A further £80 of vouchers was available if their babies continued to receive breastmilk up to six months. The trial saw an increase of six percentage points in the areas where the scheme was offered, compared with those areas where the scheme was not available. Full details can be found here.

The producers of the show contacted my support network, ‘Don’t Judge Just Feed’, knowing this idea wouldn’t sit well with myself, or any other mother who was unable to breastfeed their child for that matter. Speaking openly about the physical and emotional damage which results from breastfeeding campaigns is very much taboo. Everyone knows successful breastfeeding is a desire for many women and it is the only method of feeding which is promoted by governing and health bodies. Only someone with a formula pushing agenda would be ruthless enough to speak against these drives? Actually no. I actively speak up about the damage caused by the majority of breastfeeding campaigns because I have been a victim of the emotional scarring they cause.

So they invited me to be a mother on the panel. There I was, sitting awaiting for the cameras to roll and I had a head full of information, opinions and statements I wanted to say. I think I managed to convey 3% of what I intended to. Various factors including time, the questions and my nerves contributed towards this outcome. So this is where I fully unleash my thoughts.

To introduce a scheme that only pays breastfeeding mothers is demeaning and a punishment to those who rely on bottle-feeding. It is an appalling initiative that will increase the divide and needless viewpoints of ‘good vs bad’ that exist between infant feeding methods.

It is ableism as its worst. It rewards those that have the ability to produce sufficient milk for their baby and that’s it. It assumes all women can produce breastmilk; they can’t. It assumes all mothers can produce the right amount of milk to sustain their baby; they can’t. Imagine if people were rewarded for walking due to the health benefits; anyone immobile wouldn’t qualify for the initiative. There would be uproar due to the unethical and cruel discrimination. The same applies here.

Being bribed to feed your baby breast milk will not solve the problems with tongue tie, poor latch, insufficient milk supply; just some of the many reasons mothers are unable to successfully breastfeed. The lure of money may even tempt mothers to keep trying to breastfeed even when supply issues are present running the risk of undernourishment which heightens risks of complications and life threating conditions that can develop. Research collated and promoted by the Fed Is Best Foundation show that underfeeding a baby in the first few days of life can result in long-term neurological damage, hypoglycemia and extreme jaundice. A monetary incentive could only heighten cases of undernourishment and newborn readmissions.

If this incentive was approved and transpire, the increase in breastfeeding rates would be at the detriment and wellbeing of mothers who struggle or were unable to breastfeed. There would undoubtedly be an increase in post-natal depression episodes in the UK, promotions like this cause damage and result in mothers using the NHS for mental health services.

How about we stop putting the responsibility of successful breastfeeding on mothers. It’s not their duty to provide breastmilk, it’s their duty to ensure their child is loved, nurtured and FED. Stop the pressure on exhausted new mums and turn it on the policymakers and politics to enable women to achieve their feeding goal. Funds towards infant feeding services and education, physical help, tongue tie diagnosis programmes in the first few days after birth and how about properly funded maternity and paternity leave? Maybe we should start focusing our efforts on promoting maternal mental health and wellbeing alongside infant feeding initiatives so that we achieve safely nourished babies that aren’t at the expense of the mother’s happiness. This would be money well spent and a sure way to increase the desired breastfeeding rates.

Even with my limited expression of the many views I have against this new research, I’m thrilled to say there was an overwhelming response from the public in alliance with my viewpoint. So thank you to Victoria Derbyshire and all her team for knowingly opening the discussion surrounding infant feeding with a focus and desire to be inclusive and respectful towards all methods of feeding. Finally there has been a positive step forward when it comes to campaigning for mindful infant feeding initiatives.