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in brief: should there be a cash incentive to breastfeed?


In an effort to combat low breastfeeding rates in some poorer areas of Britain, new mothers will be entitled to receive government benefits pursuant to a new trial program.

The pilot stage of the program is to operate out of the lower socio-economic areas of Derbyshire and South Yorkshire in England.

Under this scheme, the new mothers involved in the program will receive shopping vouchers worth STG120 ($206) for breastfeeding their baby for the first six weeks. This amount then increases to STG200, should the mothers continue to breastfeed their babies for an additional six months.

The program’s founders are curious whether providing a financial incentive for new mothers will help combat the ‘stigma’ surrounding breastfeeding, and in turn improve Britain’s breastfeeding rates.

Senior Research Fellow from Sheffield University Clare Relton is one of the minds behind the project. Dr Relton refers to the widely acknowledged health benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and baby and yet confirms ‘the UK has one of the worst breastfeeding rates in the world.’

It would appear that breastfeeding is also a class issue in the UK, as The Australian reports ‘A six week old baby born into an affluent family in Britain is four times more likely to be breastfed than one in a deprived area.’

Whilst only in its trial stages, the program has already received much criticism for effectively offering what many consider to be a breastfeeding ‘bribe’. As mother Claire Harrison points out, the financial incentive overlooks many other factors that influence a parent’s choice to breastfeed. In particular, Harrison refers to the difficulties many new mothers can experience in trying to get their children to breastfeed.  These are in addition to social and cultural factors that may influence a parent’s decision to breastfeed, including the ever-present sexualisation of breasts in Western culture.

Clearly such a complex issue needs a multi-layered approach that respects the autonomy of parents, whilst also supporting and educating them about the choices they can make for their children.

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