Bribing Breastfeeding Mothers?

ImageI often wax poetic about breastfeeding. I nursed my daughter for her first year and take pride in this — not only was my baby getting the health benefits of my breast milk, but I had persevered and stuck to what is truly a huge commitment, both physically and temporally speaking. Now, several months post-breastfeeding, it occurs to me that I reflect only on the warm fuzzy parts of nursing: the bonding, feeling her warm little body snuggled against my chest, and knowing that I was the only human being on this planet who could provide comfort and sustenance to my baby. Nevermind the sore nipples, engorged breasts and the magical ability to leak milk at the sound of anything resembling a baby’s cry. My cat’s meow triggered my let-down reflex. So did other people’s babies… in restaurants, parks, the grocery store — you name it.

But despite the unpleasant side of nursing, I would do it again, no question about it. I am, as it turns out, a militantly pro-breastfeeding type. But that’s MY choice. Not every woman wants to — or is able to — breastfeed. Which is why the news of a pilot program in the UK offering mothers financial incentives for exclusively breastfeeding their babies rubs me the wrong way.

New mothers are to be offered up to £200 in shopping vouchers to encourage them to breastfeed their babies… To qualify for the full £200 of rewards, the women will have to breastfeed until six months. However, it will be frontloaded – enabling those taking part to get £120 for breastfeeding for the first six weeks. Midwives and health visitors will be asked to verify whether the women are breastfeeding.

Encouraging mothers to breastfeed is one thing; but essentially bribing them to do so is another. And ohmygod, don’t get me started on having to “verify” your milk status to a health professional.

In all likelihood, this program was started with good intentions to support breastfeeding moms and promote the benefits of nursing. But what about new moms who, for whatever reasons, don’t want to breastfeed or can’t? I know many women who desperately wanted to nurse their babies, but their milk didn’t come in, or they suffered repeated breast infections and had to quit, or their babies just never latched on. I also know women who just didn’t want to breastfeed or didn’t like it– and that’s cool too.

This type of program alienates the hell out of non-breastfeeding moms and reinforces cultural stigmas that breastfeeding moms are somehow better than formula moms. It essentially creates a class system of mothers, which trust me, no one needs.

Women are judged and scrutinized through every moment of pregnancy (oh, you drink coffee while pregnant?  Wow, are you sure you aren’t carrying twins?  OMG, you’re having a glass of wine?! Ooooooh, you’re getting an epidural?) and now post-partum. GIVE IT A REST, ALREADY! Let’s support new moms, whether they breast or bottle feed, whether they are stay-at-home moms or working moms, and whether they take to motherhood immediately or need some adjustment time.

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Categories: Motherhood

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7 replies

  1. Thanks for writing a commentary on this. Adding to your thoughts is the guilt associated with being unable to adequately breastfeed. I feel that everyday as I pump such small amounts and wonder what else can I do. My daughter was in the NICU therefore my breastfeeding plans drastically changed and despite working with 4 different lactation consultants and trying everything short of prescription meds, my supply just did not come in nor did my daughter learn to latch appropriately. But it also needs mentioning again that this is a class issue as well. I paid out of pocket to see the lactation consultants and I have the means to be out of work for a while to attempt to establish breastfeeding. Perhaps the UK’s healthcare system has better supports for women and their laws allow for paid time off, but if not then that is another hurdle. Instead of providing monetary incentives, perhaps using those funds to provide home visits by lactation experts, providing breastfeeding education prior to delivery, or working with moms in the hospital would be a more beneficial route.

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