UK Program Bribes Women To Continue Breastfeeding – So Where Do We Sign Up?

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breastfeeding mother with babyA pilot program in the United Kingdom has been working to increase breastfeeding rates using a controversial system: giving a monetary payout to women who successfully breastfeed their child for at least six-to-eight weeks. An extra $60-$300 to spend on breast pads, nursing bras, milk storage bags, and of course SNACKS? Uh, where do we sign up for this?

The program, which is called Nourishing Start for Health, or NOSH (nice one, researchers) was launched by an academic team from the Universities of Sheffield, Dundee, and Brunel. In its pilot stage, the program was offered to just over a hundred women from areas of South Yorkshire and Derbyshire with historically low breastfeeding rates. (Probably low income areas, since income and breastfeeding success rates have, for some reason, cough-a-lack-of-monetary-and-social-support-cough, something of a correlation – South Yorkshire is noted by Wikipedia to be one of the ‘least prosperous regions’ in Western Europe, and about a quarter of all children in the city of Derby live in poverty.)

58 women, about half of those offered a chance at the program, agreed to sign up. And of those, 37 were still breastfeeding at the eight-week mark. That’s more than a third of the original group given the option to participate – and since these areas are generally hovering around the 10% level, that’s a pretty significant change. Those who were still breastfeeding at check-in times were given vouchers they could spend on groceries or in the shopping district. The program’s success means that the university researchers are looking to open it up to another 4,000 women, and I wish they could extend it all the way over the Atlantic Ocean to women in the USA.

Feeding your baby is important, and whether it’s formula or breastmilk doesn’t really matter – it should be a women’s choice. Unfortunately, while we talk some big talk of breastfeeding evangelism over here in the USA, and of course shame the hell out of the women who choose the bottle, there just isn’t much in the way of social support for breastfeeding women. Our social attitude is so strange when taken as a whole: you have to choose breastfeeding if you don’t want to get crapped on, but then god forbid you let anyone see you feeding your baby, or require any sort of accommodations to do it while managing the rest of your life.

And of course, it’s not really a ‘choice’ at all anymore when you just can’t make it work financially. As far as American low-income women go, the WIC food assistance program gives out some extra milk, cheese, and protein to breastfeeding mothers in place of the extra formula bottle-feeding families get, but unfortunately they don’t include an extra coupon for a couple packages of Oreos or a can of Pringles. (I can’t be the only one who turned into a ravenous snack-vacuum while nursing, can I?) And as far as anything besides food goes, good luck.

And then of course there’s the breastfeeding paraphernalia: the pumping supplies and the nursing bras and the lanolin, maybe a nursing pillow (something you can probably skip with a singleton, but there’s no way I could have made it this far nursing twins without a good comfortable one). Breast is neither necessarily ‘best’, nor is it ‘free’ as it’s so often touted to be, even after you subtract the cost of the extra calories Mom has to consume to keep up.

Private individuals and groups sometimes chip in to help defray the costs – for example, last Tuesday, Kristen Bell apparently held a ‘baby shower’ at a Los Angeles medical center, to give out breast pumps and bras and other necessities to expecting moms in need. This kind of thing is awesome, and it warms the cockles of my hard, wizened heart to read about. I just wish moms didn’t have to rely on the charity of famous strangers to get by.

I’m not saying that one or two hundred bucks for breastfeeding women would revolutionize the way we view breastfeeding. It’s pretty clear we’ve got a long way to go on that front. But it would be a nice start at providing the social support framework we’re lacking.

(Image: jomphong/Shutterstock)