Vouchers for Matalan, John Lewis, Mothercare or supermarkets are to be dished out to new mothers if they feed their babies with breast milk.

Researchers from the University of Sheffield are examining ways to boost low rates of breastfeeding in parts of the UK.

Mothers will be given shopping vouchers worth up to £120 if their babies receive breast milk until they are six weeks old, and a further £80 if their babies are still breastfed at six months.

If the “feasibility” project is successful, the authors will conduct a national research project into the scheme.

But midwives have warned that financial reward should not be the main motivation for women to breastfeed.

The new study is to be trialled in Derbyshire and South Yorkshire – in areas where breastfeeding uptake rates are low.

The NHS recommends that mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies during the first six months.

Despite this, only 34% of UK babies are breastfed at six months, with only 1% exclusively breastfed at this stage, said Dr Clare Relton, senior research fellow at the University of Sheffield.

She said: “Breast milk is perfectly designed for babies and provides all they need for the first six months of their life.

“The scheme offers vouchers to mothers who breastfeed as a way of acknowledging both the value of breastfeeding to babies, mothers and society, and the effort involved in breastfeeding.”

The preliminary study will focus on up to 130 mothers who give birth between November and March.

If the mothers breastfeed their children for a full six months they will receive £200 shopping vouchers – half for supermarkets and half for high street stores.

The vouchers, which are being funded by the National Prevention Research Initiative, will be dished out in five stages of £40 each.

The initiative will not be rigorously policed and will simply require the participating mother and their health visitor or midwife to sign off to say they are breastfeeding.

Dr Relton said the test will not only look at whether or not the payment improves uptake rates, but also at whether women think they are being “bribed or rewarded” after they receive the vouchers.

Janet Fyle, professional policy advisor at the Royal College of Midwives, said: “Whilst we are not against financial incentives for the right reasons, there is a much bigger social and cultural problem here that needs to be tackled instead of offering financial incentives for mothers to breastfeed.

“In many areas, including those in this study, there are generations of women who may not have seen anyone breastfeeding their baby, meaning it is not the cultural norm in many communities.

“The motive for breastfeeding cannot be rooted by offering financial reward. It has to be something that a mother wants to do in the interest of the health and well-being of her child.

source: skeynews