A CONTROVERSIAL scheme which offered shopping vouchers to new mothers to persuade them to breastfeed is to be extended across the region and other parts of the UK.
The project, spearheaded by the University of Sheffield, will target 6,000 women in areas of Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire in areas with low uptake rates over the next year.
From February 18, new mothers will be eligible for up to £120 if their babies receive breastmilk until they are six weeks old, and a further £80 if their babies continue to breastfeed up to six months. Of the specially-selected 46 electoral wards, there are six in Sheffield, 11 in Rotherham and nine in Doncaster.
Although it remains a “wide-scale trial”, the latest roll-out to other areas suggests it could become the national norm, with researchers claiming it has the potential to save the NHS millions of pounds.
“Lots of women want to breastfeed their babies, but breastfeeding takes effort and mums need to be supported,” said Dr Clare Relton, the University of Sheffield’s principal investigator at the school of health and related research.
The announcement of the extension comes following a successful pilot in Rotherham, Chesterfield and Sheffield, with more than 100 women living in three areas with low breastfeeding rates.
Over half of all eligible mothers signed up for the scheme, of whom almost two thirds claimed vouchers for breastfeeding their baby at six to eight weeks.
The scheme attracted criticism and accusations of dishing out “bribes for breastfeeding” from some critics when it first launched in November 2013. Others raised concerns it could add to a feeling of guilt among women unable to breastfeed.
But the project’s subsequent success led to incentives being offered to another 4,000 mothers at the end of last year.
Dr Relton said: “The feedback we received from mums in the three feasibility sites was that they felt that the scheme rewarded their efforts. This pioneering trial will help us find out if offering shopping vouchers for breastfeeding will support these mums in areas with low breastfeeding rates.”
Mothers who enrol in the scheme are monitored by local midwives, who then confirm that, ‘to the best of their knowledge’, the women are breastfeeding.
It is estimated that the health service would save £17m a year in hospital admissions and GP visits if women breastfed for longer.
But the incentive issue continues to divide opinion and some breastfeeding mothers remain sceptical. Leeds mother-of-two Elinor Hipkin, aged 33, who is pregnant with her third child, has expressed concerns offering rewards “muddy the water”.
She said: I think the money would be better spent on support and advice for families - things like what a good latch looks like, how to spot tongue tie, what ‘normal’ looks like, feeds of varying times, feeling or not feeling ‘let down’.
“I believe breastfeeding is beneficial from a public health aspect - one of the reasons I breastfed is for the personal health benefits in the long term.
“That said, I strongly believe women should be able to make a free and informed choice. I fear schemes like this muddy the water and suggest women who don’t breastfeed are lazy or selfish.
“Lots of women find breastfeeding really hard.”