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Shopping vouchers 'boost breastfeeding rates'

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith
woman breastfeeding

11th December 2017 – Offering shopping vouchers to new mothers could increase the numbers prepared to breastfeed, a study has found.

A research team from the University of Sheffield and the University of Dundee say financial incentives could be particularly helpful in areas of the country where women are most reluctant to breastfeed their babies.

Despite well documented evidence that breastfeeding is beneficial for infants and their mums, the UK has some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world.

In some areas, only 12% of babies aged between 6 to 8 weeks are fed breast milk.

Breastfeeding up to 6 months

The study involved 10,010 new mothers from South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and North Nottinghamshire taking part in The Nourishing Start for Health (NOSH) trial.

Participants were divided into 2 groups. The first group received standard care and advice from midwives and health visitors. The second group were also offered shopping vouchers worth a total of £200 if they agreed to give their babies breast milk, either from breastfeeding or from expressed milk.

The vouchers were available in £40 stages if their babies were receiving any amounts of breast milk at 2 days, 10 days, 6-8 weeks, 3 months, and 6 months of age.

The vouchers could be exchanged at supermarkets and other shops.

At least 1 claim for a voucher was submitted by around 40% of mothers.

Almost all the claims were countersigned by midwives or health visitors.

The study, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, found a 5.7% increase in breastfeeding among mothers able to claim vouchers compared with those who could not.

Breastfeeding challenges

Fiona Sutcliffe, 29, from Sheffield, who took part in the scheme with her baby girl, told researchers: "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."

Commenting on the findings in a statement, Professor Mary Fewtrell, a nutrition specialist at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, says: "Breastfed babies have fewer chest and ear infections, and increased scores on tests of intelligence in childhood, so we welcome all attempts to improve the prevalence of breastfeeding in the UK.

"The UK has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world with prevalence particularly low among very young mothers and disadvantaged socio-economic groups, potentially widening existing health inequalities and contributing further to the cycle of deprivation.

"This new study, which took place in a population with a very low rate of breastfeeding, showed that the provision of shopping vouchers was effective in increasing breastfeeding. We wish to see bold alternative ways of improving societal attitudes to breastfeeding and question whether in the long-term financial incentives are likely to provide the necessary stimulus on their own."

Reviewed on December 11, 2017

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