thoughts and things

Why vouchers aren’t the way forward for encouraging breastfeeding

So, after feminism, it’s time to talk boobies. Yes, there appears to be a trial in the North where mothers are being paid as an incentive to breastfeed. Hearing this news angered me somewhat. It also made me feel pretty sad. How can something such as breastfeeding be given a monetary value? Why would having £200 worth of vouchers, actually make mothers want to breastfeed?
I have blogged before about my struggles with breastfeeding, and eventual formula feeding. Would I be eligible for this? How can you measure who is breastfeeding, and who is not? How long would you need to breastfeed for, to get the vouchers? As well as all these questions. I also have in my mind the issue that what this would do to mothers who cannot breastfeed for whatever reason. It is just another way to make women feel that they have failed, and another way to chip away at their self-esteem.
Vouchers will not help you to breastfeed. Help and support will. Breastfeeding peer supporters, breastfeeding consultants, will. I would not have managed to breastfeed at all, to express at all, to combination feed at all, if it wasn’t for the help and support I received. I had to go and find that support. After having a baby, I had to spend time on the internet, calling people, visiting people, to try and get it to work. I have to say the support received in hospital was mixed. Some health care assistants did help, and were lovely, others rolled their eyes. Some midwives were great and very helpful, others so not. It appeared to me that if you chose formula, it was a relief as then they didn’t need to help you. I don’t blame these professionals, I blame the environment in which they work. How can you help every woman in a six bedded bay to breastfeed, when there is only one of you? Why can’t the money these vouchers will cost, be used to finance more breastfeeding support on postnatal wards, to pay volunteers who in their own time support other mothers like myself.
I also feel that Health Visitors could be made more aware of issues, and provide more help and support. When Bubs had lost weight, and I was explaining my issues to the Health Visitor, their response was for me to see the Breastfeeding Group – and that was it. Surely health visitors could be a great resource and help with this issue.
If you choose to formula feed, mothers have enough guilt, stigma and anxiety. By ‘rewarding’ breastfeeding mothers in this way, we are causing a two-tier system. It’s placing formula feeding mothers in the same class as smokers – the fact it is legal, yet frowned upon. There are a million reasons why a mother cannot breastfeed. Giving vouchers to others who can breastfeed,  isn’t going to help make them feel any better. It would be especially hard if you tried, and it didn’t work out – would you get your vouchers ceremoniously taken away? Feeding your child is not a choice any woman takes lightly. It is an individual choice, and there are so many reasons behind why someone may choose not to breastfeed.
I wonder whether people will choose to breastfeed just because of the vouchers. If they did, are they really in the right frame of mind to give it a good go? Would they be aware of what exactly is involved? Also, part of me thinks that there are still barriers to breastfeeding, and the lure of vouchers may not be enough to sway. It just seems so ludicrous to me that if you were in two minds, the offer of a financial incentive would be enough to tip you over the edge and choose breastfeeding.
If this trial is successful, it could be rolled out nationwide. I just can’t see how this could be financially viable, when we don’t even have enough midwives as it is! This money could be better spent on improving maternity – both antenatal and postnatal – services for women as well as Health Visiting services, particularly with regards to breastfeeding. All I can see with these vouchers is another way to make people feel sad and stressed. This is not the way to promote and encourage breastfeeding.

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