My social media has been awash with outrage today over a story that women in a pilot study are going to be ‘paid to breastfeed’. I’m not going to explain the whole thing here; chances are if you’re reading this it’s because you are already aware of the story and the resulting furore. (If not you can read the BBC news story here). It’s worth noting that although this has been a massive story in my timelines today it didn’t even make the main headlines on the BBC News app and was tucked away in the health section.
Anyway, it seems everyone is having their say so I thought I’d get my two penn’eth in while it’s still a hot topic. I’ve already written about my breastfeeding story so I’m not going to go into all the details again but suffice to say I really wanted to breastfeed my son and I would love to still be doing it now.
Would the chance to get £200 of shopping vouchers helped me to carry on? Probably not. I just wasn’t producing enough milk to exclusively breastfeed. Chances are that missing out on the vouchers would just have added to the feeling that I was some how failing my son.
However, would the possibility of me losing those vouchers meant that the midwife would have been less eager to suggest top up formula feeds when my baby was only three days old? Possibly.
Would the very presence of a scheme designed (in whatever misguided way) to encourage me to continue breastfeeding have led to me receiving more support in order to do that? Quite probably.
I think that Becky over at The Laughing Owls made a good point in her post on the matter – it sometimes seems health visitors and midwives are so concerned with a mother’s mental health that they pussyfoot around the issue of breastfeeding rather than providing encouragement and support. I remember repeatedly just being told I needed to do what was best for me, even if that meant stopping breastfeeding altogether, rather than being given encouragement to continue.
I’m sure most people reading this would agree that we would rather see money spent on training midwives and health visitors to better support breastfeeding, or on more specialist support workers, or more peer support groups, than as a direct financial incentive to try and get mothers to breastfeed and I’ll admit my first reaction was to join in the outrage going on all around me…
But this is where I’m going to make my, perhaps controversial, point. It’s a point I’ve not seen made in any of the blogs or comments I’ve read today (although I’ll admit I’ve not read even half of what has been written). You see, in amongst all the outrage I think we might have missed the point. This pilot scheme (and let’s remember it is only a pilot) isn’t aimed at me. It isn’t aimed at all the people who I follow on Twitter or Facebook. It isn’t aimed at women like me who really wanted to breastfeed but couldn’t, or even at women who considered all the pros and cons and then made a perfectly legitimate and informed decision to bottle feed their baby. This scheme is aimed at mothers in (and I quote the BBC) ‘deprived’ areas…
The areas have been chosen because they have such low breastfeeding rates. On average just one in four mothers are breastfeeding by the six- to eight-week mark compared with a national average of 55%.
So, this scheme is aimed at mothers who often don’t even try to breastfeed or if they do then they don’t keep it up for long. And maybe this pilot will show that for these women, a financial incentive, which I’m sure must be coupled with some sort of increased support from the midwives and health visitors who are to monitor the scheme, will help encourage them to breastfeed when otherwise they wouldn’t have done. And in my mind that can’t be a bad thing.