The pilot scheme launched by the Sheffield University, will involve 130 mothers in Yorkshire and Derbyshire, in communities where, the researchers say, breastfeeding is in effect stigmatized. (Agencies)
Under the study, women in low-income areas of the country where bottle-feeding is the norm will be offered up to 200 pounds in shopping vouchers if they breastfeed their baby, to find out whether cultural barriers against breastfeeding can be overcome by a financial incentive.
Women will be offered vouchers worth 40 pounds if they are breastfeeding when the baby is two-days-old and then further 40 pound vouchers at 10 days and at six weeks. The last two vouchers are spaced further apart, at three months and at six months.
"A woman from a young, white low-income area will often tell you it is embarrassing to breastfeed in public or even in her own home. We know that is the community norm," Mary Renfrew, who is advising the project, was quoted as saying by the Guardian.
The project is likely to provoke hostility from some in communities where breastfeeding is more usual and also among those who have found it difficult, who may think offering vouchers is a form of bribery or coercion.
But Dr Clare Relton, leading the project, likened it to governments handing out milk tokens or the Healthy Start programme offering deprived families vouchers. "Not breastfeeding is a cause of inequality," she was quoted as saying by the daily.
Breastfeeding protects babies from gut problems, respiratory problems, ear infections and the life-threatening condition necrotizing enter colitis, according to a UNICEF report last year on which Renfrew was the lead author. It also protects women from breast cancer.
Yet the UK has a poor record on breastfeeding, with only 35 percent of mothers still doing it at all at six months, as the World Health Organization recommends.
The pilot scheme will take place in areas where only around a quarter of women are breastfeeding their baby by six weeks, compared with over half nationally.
The team acknowledges that verification could be an issue. They will ask the mother to sign a declaration that she is breastfeeding and then ask either the health visitor, midwife or breastfeeding counselor to sign another stating they have discussed it.
The pilot scheme launched by the Sheffield University, will involve 130 mothers in Yorkshire and Derbyshire, in communities where, the researchers say, breastfeeding is in effect stigmatized.