A controversial pilot program has been launched in the United Kingdom, which gives financial incentives for low-income mothers to breastfeed their infants. The NOSH or Nourishing Start for Health, is a program partially funded by taxpayers that has begun in South Yorkshire and Derbyshire, two regions that have also seen very low breastfeeding rates.
Those taking part in the program will be offered coupons to popular grocery and department stores in increasing amounts the longer they continue to breastfeed their child. If a new mother breastfeeds her child in the first two days, she will receive £40 (or $64.44) in coupons, then £40 more after each milestone of ten days, six weeks, three months, and six months. So those breastfeeding for six months will have received £200 (or $321.94) in coupons.
Dr. Clare Relton, the University of Sheffield lead researcher of NOSH said, “We know that breastfed babies cost the NHS [National Health Service in the UK] less than babies fed infant formula. So we’re looking at one way of redressing the health inequalities associated with breastfeeding by testing whether it’s possible to offer financial incentives.”
Studies have shown that babies who are breastfed suffer fewer health problems than those that don’t. Additionally breastfed babies have lower rates of diabetes, obesity, respiratory and stomach problems. However the UK has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in Europe with only 1% of women feeding their babies exclusively breast milk for six months as the World Health Organization recommends. 34% of women in the UK feed their babies a mixture of breast milk and formula during the baby’s first 6 months.
"We’ve tried many, many things to improve breastfeeding rates in the U.K. and we failed dismally. So we think vouchers might just be the way ahead for this group," said Dr. Colin Michie of the British Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health Nutrition. But that approach is being criticized by some like Matthew Sinclair, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance who say, “This is yet another example of public health officials believing that the nanny state knows best for every single family.” Others say there is no way to enforce the program goals. But during this pilot stage, NOSH officials say that the program will not be rigorously enforced and it will only require the mother and health visitor to sign off for the vouchers.
Still others say that the government money would be more effectively spent on support groups, teaching techniques and coping skills for any breastfeeding problems that commonly arise with new mothers. Dr. Relton says that the program is designed to work with on-going breastfeeding support programs that the NHS already has in place.
The program is in a testing phase in South Yorkshire and Derbyshire, but if it is shown to be successful, it could be rolled out nationally.