The first study of its kind saw ten thousand mothers promised shopping vouchers as an incentive to breastfeed their babies.

The trial was funded by the National Prevention Research Intuitive and Public Health England and carried out by the University of Sheffield and University of Dundee.

Shopping vouchers

Shopping vouchers were offered to new mums if their babies received breast milk, either breastfed or expressed, at two days old, ten days old, six weeks old. A further eighty pounds would be given if breastfeeding was carried on to when the baby was six months old.

The study was completed in some of the less than affluent parts of the country in the UK where many households were on a low income. The promise of a Cash Incentive was in the form of shopping vouchers and saw a six percent increase in those who took up and carried on breastfeeding which was thirty-two percent of mothers to thirty-eight per cent.

The idea of the funded scheme is to save the NHS an estimated seventeen million pounds a year in children’s hospital admissions and GP appointments.

Low breastfeeding rates

The UK is reported to have one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world and the study believes this incentive scheme could change that.

Some experts have remained sceptical of the trial.

They agree that tackling the issue of low breastfeeding rates is a positive, but it could be problematic in how the results are monitored. They have said that the promise of a cash incentive could lead to some falsifying results and say that they are breastfeeding to get the reward when in fact they are not.

Others, such as midwives have praised the trial as normalising breastfeeding in areas where breastfeeding is still considered socially embarrassing.

Fiona Sutcliffe was one of the ten thousand mothers who took part in the trial and she said it provided her with motivation to carry on breastfeeding. When in the difficult beginning weeks, she felt she could carry on with the promise of the incentive.

Inconsiderate and selfish

Not everyone is so happy with the scheme with many mothers taking to social media to air their views.

Some have said they are surprised the health service has the time, resources and funds to do this and it is inconsiderate and selfish to those who cannot, or chose not to, breastfeed and formula feed instead.

It may also segregate and isolate those who choose to formula feed and bring a sense of shame or failure if they cannot breastfeed. There can be a divide between mothers who do, and the mothers who either cannot or choose not to and this may intensify if a breastfeeding reward scheme is brought in.

It is yet to be confirmed if the trial will be rolled out in other areas.