Shopping voucher scheme for breastfeeding mothers extended

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The success of a scheme which rewards breastfeeding mothers with shopping vouchers has resulted in it being extended.

Although offering financial incentives to try and persuade mothers to breastfeed is quite controversial, the results of what is called Nosh in South Yorkshire and Derbyshire indicates that many mothers are willing to sign up. A larger trial for 4000 women is due to commence soon.

Britain has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates globally, even though this is the best start to life for a baby and offers the mother benefits as well. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that babies are fed breast milk exclusively for the first six months of life. However, in deprived communities, only 12% of mothers breastfeed their babies for the first six to eight weeks.

Academics started the Nourishing Start for Health a year ago with a study involving 108 females residing in three low breastfeeding areas. If the mothers breastfed their babies, they were given the option to claim vouchers to the value of £40 for high street stores and supermarkets. This was available at different stages of the baby’s life. It started when the baby was two days old, 10 days, six weeks, three months and eventually at six months of age. If the mothers endured for the full period, they would enjoy £200 worth of vouchers.

When the project was first announced, critics said it was a form of bribery and women who were not able to breastfeed would be penalised. However, during the pilot study, half of the eligible women (58) chose to participate in the scheme, 48 of them claimed the two-day vouchers, 45 the 10-day vouchers, and 37 laid claim to the six to eight-week vouchers.

The researchers are still in the process of collecting data on those who claimed at three and six months. The researchers are very pleased with the overall results and that the mothers, midwives and healthcare visitors who co-sign the claim form to certify that the mother has indeed been breastfeeding her baby, have found the scheme acceptable.

Mothers participating in the project said they spent the vouchers on groceries, nappies, toys and baby clothing. Some of the women used the scheme to reach personal goals, and viewed the vouchers as a reward for successfully breastfeeding for a stipulated time period. One mother said that she sometimes thought she should move her baby on to the bottle, but realised that she would not be able to claim her voucher and this acted as an incentive to continue breastfeeding.

Researchers based at the Universities of Sheffield, Brunel and Dundee will manage the larger trial.

Image Credit: USDAgov

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