Breastfeeding vouchers

I may be late to join the party, but I couldn’t let today’s headline news that women in selected parts of the country are going to be rewarded with shopping vouchers for continuing to breastfeed pass without comment.

Anyone who reads my blog or that knows me, will be aware that I am vehemently pro breastfeeding. I know and understand that for some women, breastfeeding truly is an issue. For others, it just doesn’t fit their lifestyle or they don’t enjoy it, or the challenges are so great that they make a choice not to.

Would offering vouchers really make any difference to any of these women? It will load additional guilt and pressure onto those who tried but were unable to – and often this is more down to the support available in those initial days and weeks with a new baby and less to do with physiology. And for those who have a lifestyle that doesn’t allow for exclusive breastfeeding (as this is the 21st century, women have jobs too, and not all get generous maternity leave with them), handing them some vouchers isn’t going to change this.

I am all for improving breastfeeding rates in the UK; they are pitifully low, after all. But commercialising the act is not the way to do so. Providing better support to all mothers, better education to both mothers, their families and the healthcare workers that they come into contact with, now that’s where the money should be going. Support does not come in the shape of a new dress. Although there are some lovely nursing dresses available!

Unfortunately, we live in a culture that has normalised formula feeding over breastfeeding and are now realising, too late, that this is not such a great thing after all. However, when those ‘successful’ ladies go out to spend their vouchers, baby in tow, they will most likely find the baby rooms in the shopping centre are marked with a baby bottle. No matter what lies behind the door, this symbol of infant feeding speaks volumes against breastfeeding and makes me want to cry a little every time I see it. And as their baby grows, he or she will no doubt at some point play with a baby doll, dutifully feeding it with the bottle supplied in the packaging.

Bottle-feeding has become the accepted norm in our society and so often I’ve heard the lament that ‘if only I’d known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have let the medical staff push me to ‘top up’ my baby’. From the word go, women are fighting a losing battle when it comes to breastfeeding, so rewarding the few determined (or lucky) enough to get past the initial hurdles with some vouchers strikes me as a pointless exercise. But maybe that’s the point. Perhaps the idea is that so few women in their carefully selected groups will succeed that they don’t really risk their budgets. After all, finding a midwife who has the time to verify that a woman is still breastfeeding is going to be tricky in itself.

As a final point, the cynic in me has to wonder who is behind this idea. Could the formula manufacturers have anything to do with it? One brand in particular is well-known for its underhand marketing efforts to undermine breastfeeding rates. Is this yet another ploy to show ‘support’ while at the same time promoting the alternatives? Along my breastfeeding journey, I have heard such incredible and unbelievable stories about infant feeding marketing, I am sad to say nothing would surprise me.

I don’t agree with the initiative (in case you hadn’t guessed) but I do agree with normalising breastfeeding, improving rates, from those initial first days, to longer term feeding. I don’t believe this is how to do it, but at least they’re thinking about it. And I hope that those behind this initiative and those who have the budgets to do so, are taking notes of the many, many comments and posts that have been shared about this today. Breastfeeding remains a contentious issue and today’s news has only served to reinvigorate that, but it’s got us all talking about it again. And the more we talk about it, the more normal it becomes, so as they say, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.