So the idea is that breast feeding mums will be rewarded with Â£200 worth of vouchers to spend in supermarkets or on the high street as laid out in this BBC story. Great idea? Will increase the numbers of breastfeeding mums and after all breast is best right?
Well no, to be honest this will just make things worse for new mums and I doubt it will have much affect on the numbers as Â£200 verses your actual wages may not equate. For a start the scheme will financially punish those who can't breastfeed or who's babies can't take lactose or those that want or have to go back to work, the result of which will be that mums will feel even more of a failure over something that is beyond their control. When I had Jean I was desperate to Breastfeed, during the early pregnancy I had a plan to still breastfeed whilst working on research at the Natural History Museum which they were supportive of - I was very ill so sadly that didn't come to pass. Then I struggled for 5 and a half months not able to take my stronger pain killers and the breast feeding itself was painful as hell and she was a hungrier baby so I had to supplement almost straight away.
I cried when the Dr told me to stop - but the baby had bitten both breasts hard enough to make me bleed and the bruising was bad enough that I just couldn't do it anymore. With Mary I was stopped at 3 and a half months and I cried again and felt very bad but my body was confused by the hormones and every time I breastfeed my bleeding got heavier and heavier result in several trips to the hospital including casualty.
There are others in similar positions due to babies not taking the milk or it making them sick, milk not kicking in, infections, the need for sleep causing mental breakdowns and so on - what affect will this scheme have on women who like me had problems with breastfeeding, bearing in mind they already feel awful about not doing the 'best' for their baby - Breast is Best but sometimes you just can't and that makes you feel like a bad mother - a fail mother and this is a dangerous time for new mums. This can increase the chances of the mother sliding into the old baby blues.
Breast feeding is already an emotive issue for mothers, but it is worse than that - domestic abusers will use the vouchers as a new form of bullying and a reason to withhold money from the mother. I say domestic abusers rather than partners or boyfriends as it can be other family members. Add in the issue with the obvious slant that women shouldn't go back to work for this incentive to work and you have a nasty bundle of disempowerment.
It will also increase the class distinctions in this country as those that are militant about breastfeeding tend to be upper middle class women who do not need to go back to work - they will be getting the rewards for not really doing anything extra whilst the mums that have to go back to work will not get the reward. The single mum who can't work due to looking after her kids maybe better off with it depending on how it's handled but things being as they are I wonder if they will dock it out of something else she gets.
Now the thing is it would be a great idea to increase breastfeeding but this is not the way! Breastfeeding pushers are already resented by a lot of women as they just do not seem to appreciate what the average women has to do in their lives. It is seen as a faddy thing homeschooling mothers do etc... And on top of that sometimes you get shouted at when you breastfeed in public or chucked out of restaurants (women are actually protected by law in the UK for breastfeeding but somehow that doesn't always matter plus many new mums are not given this vital piece of information and it is only up until the child is 6 months were as the WHO recommend breast feeding up to 2 yrs). Here is an article that shows just how confusing this can be and how pressured mums can end up being to 'breast feed acceptably' because it's not already an big enough issue for them.
And you get stories like this one where a judge informs a woman to stop breastfeeding her ten month old so it can stay over with it's dad. Our society sends mixed messages about breastfeeding and women are feeling the pressure.
So how do you increase breastfeeding number? After all it is a good idea for both mother and child to have that breast feeding time, from a health and an emotional point of view - if they can.
1) Make sure that pubs and restaurants are breastfeeding friendly - what ever the law says the mother has to feel safe to actually breast feed efficiently.
2) Get the idea out there that breastfeeding is normal and not something to be scurried away and hidden - My Dad said that in the 40's and 50's when he was growing up there were babies attached to breasts in the street - that was just how it was and he would be lifted up to see the baby whilst it was still attached to the nipple.
3) Support don't preach what ever the outcome or need of the mother/baby - breastfeeding is being seen as something privileged mothers use to badger those that aren't, to say 'I'm better than you as I breast fed.' Some of the midwives/health workers are quiet frankly scary in their zeal over the thing, meaning mothers feel bullied into breast feeding.
4) Show mothers what to do! Conversely to the previous point - the problems I had with Jeany were preventable, I was not shown how to breast feed and so spent 5 and a half months doing it wrong and causing myself a lot of pain and Jean not to be getting the best feed. If I had been shown I may have managed the 2 yrs I was hoping for. Support groups are few and far between and tend to be full of the 'preachers' but I think if they were more accessible then that would alter and women would feel more secure knowing there was a support network there. But the other thing is that these support groups are all voluntary and often have no finance to speak of.
5) In house/work creches or ones within five minutes of where you are working with the flexibility to allow you to take breast feeding breaks, at the moment this is only high end jobs but they do exist but for breastfeeding numbers to truly go up you need this sort of thing in place in Tesco, ASDA, Morrisons etc... the police are ok with this in they tend to allow expressed milk to be kept in the work fridge etc...
6) Help women not to feel ashamed of their bodies in the first place - this is perhaps the biggest hurdle to breastfeeding, women are shy, embarrassed, worried about their breasts and the publics reactions. Breasts have been turned into sexual objects, women with nothing on is seen as on giant billboards but a woman sitting breast feeding is not which is an insane way round for things to be.
7) After generations of pharma produced formula and mothers being told that that was best for baby, don't expect a rapid over night change in behaviour and then see it's absence as a failure of gentler incentives. Use the breast feeding fights cancer sound bites and things to grow awareness and tackle the idea that parent hood should be hidden. There are people out there who really do still believe that breast feeding mothers should not leave the house.