Mums should be paid to breastfeed to increase rates, says University of Sheffield report

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New mums should be paid to feed their babies breast milk to increase low breastfeeding rates, a groundbreaking study has claimed.

Research jointly led by the universities of Sheffield and Dundee revealed that offering financial incentives may significantly increase low breastfeeding rates in the UK which are some of the lowest in the world.

More than 10, 000 new mothers across South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and North Nottinghamshire were involved in the unique study which offered shopping vouchers worth up to £120 if their babies received breast milk at two days, 10 days and six-weeks-old.

A further £80 of vouchers were available if their babies continued to receive breast milk up to six months.

The trial, funded by the National Prevention Research Initiative and Public Health England, saw an increase of six percentage points in the areas where the scheme was offered, compared with those areas where the scheme was not available.

The study was commissioned as a way of looking at how to increase breastfeeding rates which are as low as 12 per cent in some areas of the country.

Principal investigator Dr Clare Relton, from the University of Sheffield’s School of Health and Related Research, said: “Our scheme offered vouchers to mothers as a way of acknowledging the value of breastfeeding to babies and mothers and the work involved in breastfeeding.

“As the scheme was tested in areas with low breastfeeding rates - just 28 per cent of babies were receiving any breast milk at six-eight weeks - we were delighted that 46 per cent of all eligible mothers signed up to the scheme and over 40 per cent claimed at least one voucher.

The trial found a significant increase in breastfeeding rates in areas where the scheme was offered.

Dr Relton added: “Eight out of 10 mothers in the UK who start to breastfeed stop before they really want to. It seems that the voucher scheme helped mothers to breastfeed for longer. Mothers reported they felt rewarded for breastfeeding.”

Mum Fiona Sutcliffe, aged 29, of Sheffield who took part in the scheme with her baby girl, 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.”

Anahi Wheeldon, a community midwife from Eckington in Sheffield, said: “The scheme has really helped change the culture and attitude towards breastfeeding. Particularly with young mums you used to be the odd one out if you breastfed, but now they know people who’ve breastfed, there is a network between mums, so it’s become more normal.”

Dr Gavin Malloch, programme manager for public health partnerships at the Medical Research Council, said: “There is a wealth of evidence about the importance of breastfeeding for a child’s health and also the health of mothers. We also know that being breastfed as a baby has benefits for health later in life, reducing the risk of conditions such as diabetes which place an enormous pressure on the NHS.

“Breastfeeding rates in the UK are some of the lowest in the world. This study shows that vouchers might significantly improve rates in areas where they are below the national average. It will also help inform discussions around this issue at a global level.”