Breastfeeding can be one of the most difficult aspects of having a child. Stress, impossible expectations, and lack of education and support are factors that have been shown to reduce breastfeeding rates. Many women feel that the odds are stacked against them when it comes to breastfeeding. But, as new research has shown, incentivizing breastfeeding with vouchers may encourage moms to nurse their babies for longer. Ultimately, the incentive program created a support system for moms, which may be more valuable than the financial or monetary rewards themselves.
For the study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers offered around 10,000 new mothers in the United Kingdom up to £200 — or roughly $267.00 — in vouchers as an incentive to breastfeed their children, according to the BBC. Following the incentive program, it was determined that breastfeeding rates in the included areas, which tend to be low, had increased.
Researchers in the study explained that the vouchers gave new moms a "lift" and provided them with a sense of community. The vouchers could be used for food, household items, toys, clothes, books, and more supermarkets and other shops, according to the BBC.
According to the study, 46 percent of eligible mothers signed up for the program and more than 40 percent went on to claim at least one voucher, meaning that they reported that they had breastfed for a least a short period of time. One included mother, 29-year-old Fiona Sutcliffe, told the BBC that she went through periods of thinking that breastfeeding was "really difficult" and admitted that she was "really struggling." The voucher program did a lot to ease her nerves and keep her on track:
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.
While she didn't share how long she breastfed, she did tell the BBC that she and her partner used the vouchers to buy presents for her daughter's first birthday. The network of support aspect of the program filled a gap for many new mothers that often leads them to opt out of or abandon their breastfeeding goals.
Mary Renfrew of the University of Dundee, one of the study's authors, told The Guardian that it can be "particularly difficult" for new moms to nurse "without strong family and community support because of strong societal barriers”. So, finding a way to help new mothers overcome these obstacles could be the key to increasing breastfeeding rates.
Fortunately, everyone can play a part in helping new moms. There are a number of easy ways to support a mom while breastfeeding. For example, Linda Smith, an Ohio-based International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) explained one way to HuffPost:
The most important thing is saying, "Wow, you’re doing a great job ... it might be hard now, but you can do this," Those are the kind of statements and attitudes that we want to convey to every mother.
For mothers who can and wish to breastfeed, there are a number of reasons to encourage it, not least of which is the long list of health benefits to both mother and baby. Breastfeeding fuels infant growth and provides crucial antibodies and protection against childhood diseases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). WHO also reports that it reduces maternal risk of breast and ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and postpartum depression.
While the immediate reward of shopping vouchers may be what drew moms in, it would appear that the support network is what kept them coming back. The takeaway from this is not that new moms need gift cards to breastfeed their babies. Rather, they need to feel like there is another reason to push through the hard parts and having a network of people who care about the outcome certainly helps. I think that's something that all moms can all relate to.
Check out Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:
Watch full episodes of Romper's Doula Diaries on Facebook Watch.