Paying mothers incentivises breastfeeding, study finds
Offering shopping vouchers to new mothers can encourage them to breastfeed their babies, a study published in JAMA Pediatrics has found.
About 10,000 new mothers in Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire were offered up to £200 in vouchers as an incentive.
Breastfeeding rates increased in these areas, which typically have low uptake.
The vouchers gave mums a "lift" and helped them feel part of a network, the Sheffield University-led study found.
They could be used to buy food, household items, toys, clothes, books, DVDs or music in supermarkets and other shops.
Overall, 46% of all eligible mothers signed up to the scheme and more than 40% claimed at least one voucher, paid for by research councils, medical charities and Public Health England.
Fiona Sutcliffe, 29, from Sheffield, took part in the scheme with her baby girl.
She had considered breastfeeding while she was pregnant but was nervous that a caesarean would make it tricky: "There were definitely times when I was thinking 'this is really difficult, I'm really struggling'."
Breastfeeding reduces a baby's chances of:
- Diarrhoea and vomiting
- Chest and ear infections
- Becoming obese
- Sudden infant death syndrome
- Type 2 diabetes in later life
- Childhood leukaemia
- Cardiovascular disease in adulthood
Source: NHS Choices
Fiona said being part of the scheme encouraged her to breastfeed, and to do so for longer.
"The scheme is a really good way of keeping going - keeping motivated to stay on track rather than giving up and going for the bottle.
"It provides little milestones, little stepping stones and helps you get breastfeeding established."
Fiona and her partner saved the vouchers and spent them on presents for their daughter's first birthday.
Breastfeeding levels in the UK are some of the lowest in the world - in some areas only 12% of six to eight week-old babies are fed in this way.
One of the study's authors, Mary Renfrew, of the University of Dundee, said: "It can be particularly difficult for women to breastfeed without strong family and community support, because of strong societal barriers."
She said some women encounter barriers when breastfeeding in public and that there is "widespread misleading marketing that formula is equivalent to breastfeeding".
Abigail Wood from the National Childbirth Trust said it was important that women feel supported not pressurised to breastfeed.
"It's good to see the mothers involved in this scheme appear to have had a positive experience.
"We know that most women want to breastfeed yet many stop because they don't get the information and practical help they need."