Paying new mothers £200 in supermarket vouchers could encourage them to breastfeed, a new study reveals.
Breastfeeding levels in the UK are the lowest in the world. In some areas just 12 per cent of six to eight-week-old babies are breastfed.
This is despite clear NHS guidance that recommends children should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives.
Researchers found financial incentives, in the region of £120, were responsible for a 6 per cent jump in breastfeeding rates
The new study of 10,000 new mothers, undertaken by researchers at Sheffield and Dundee universities, may help overturn the growing problem.
How was the study carried out?
New mothers were offered shopping vouchers worth up to £120 if babies received breast milk at two days, 10 days and six weeks old.
A further £80 of vouchers was available to the volunteers if their babies continued to receive breast milk up to six months of age – like guidelines state.
Nearly half (46 per cent) of eligible mothers signed up to the scheme and two fifths claimed at least one voucher for breastfeeding.
The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, found that the vouchers ‘really lifted mums and gave them recognition and acceptance’.
WHY ARE MOTHERS NOT BREASTFEEDING?
Mothers are giving up breastfeeding because they are too embarrassed, don’t want to be tied down and fear babies aren’t getting enough milk.
Figures from more than 152,000 British women show that less than half – 45 per cent – still give their babies breast milk at two months.
The NHS recommends that babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months and after that given a combination of breast milk and food for about a year.
But statistics from the Government’s quarterly survey show only 30 per cent of babies aged six to eight weeks were given solely breast milk.
Another 15 per cent of the 152,169 women who completed the questionnaire said they were partially breastfeeding at that stage – and giving babies some formula milk.
Britain has the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world.
A Lancet study in January showed only 0.5 per cent of UK babies are still given breast milk after a year compared with 23 per cent in Germany, 56 per cent in Brazil and 99 per cent in Senegal, West Africa.
To try to establish the reasons for this, Public Health England carried out a separate survey on 500 new mothers.
Nearly two thirds – 63 per cent – said they would be worried about breastfeeding in front of strangers while 44 per cent were wary of doing so with friends.
What do mothers think?
Fiona Sutcliffe, 29, from Sheffield, who took part in the trial with her daughter, said: ‘Breastfeeding is quite difficult in the beginning.
‘The scheme is a really good way of keeping going – keeping motivated to stay on track rather than giving up and going for the bottle.
‘It provides little milestones, little stepping stones and helps you get breastfeeding established.’
Study co-author Mary Renfrew, professor of mother and infant health at the University of Dundee, welcomed the findings.
She said: ‘This is the first large-scale study to show an increase in breastfeeding in communities where rates have been low for generations.
‘It can be particularly difficult for women to breastfeed without strong family and community support, because of strong societal barriers.’
The vouchers were designed to acknowledge the value of breastfeeding and reward mothers for the ‘work involved’.
New mothers were recruited from areas with particularly low breastfeeding rates, South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and north Nottinghamshire.
The benefits of breastmilk
Breast milk contains antibodies passed on from the mother that help boost a baby’s immune system and help it fight infections and viruses.
There is also evidence that breastfed babies have higher IQs and are less at risk of obesity – formula milk is higher in fat.
Breastfeeding is considered beneficial for the mother and enables her to bond with the newborn.
It also enables her to lose weight, as nursing mothers burn up to 500 calories a day extra, according to previous research.
It is estimated the NHS would save at least £17 million every year in hospital admissions and GP visits if more women were supported to breastfeed for longer.