So the latest idea to get women breastfeeding (as announced this morning by the BBC- link this) is a pilot scheme offering new mums in parts of Sheffield and Chesterfield £200 worth of shopping vouchers if they succeed in breastfeeding for the first 6 months of their child’s life.
To loosely break it down: a mum will receive £120 of vouchers after breast feeding her baby for 6 weeks with a £80 on completing 6 months. It reads in a similar fashion to my sales commission structure from my days as a recruitment consultant. Breastfeeding with perks, who knew? What about health insurance, a petrol allowance and option to join company discount DVD scheme, very handy with Christmas coming.
Firstly I do not share the ‘breast is best’ one-shoe-fits-all thinking that polarises mother’s discussions on an international scale. I think there are many situations where breast is not best, and I firmly believe that every woman makes an informed choice about whether or not it is right for her and her baby. However, I am never going to criticise anyone for proactively wanting to do something to get women breast feeding, however it did make me think about my own experience.
I recall the ‘breast is best’ standard issue NHS DVD I was given in my Bounty pack on booking into my local hospital when 3 months pregnant. It showed interviews of breastfeeding mothers, including one who cited her reason for breast feeding her 3rd child was because her friends were doing it. I have to say I didn’t find the argument that breastfeeding would equate to social merit a compelling one, in fact the only thing I felt compelled to do was to launch said DVD across the room, I felt so outrageously patronised.
I breastfed both my children with varying degrees of failure and success. I recall the agony of just 3 days after the birth of my first child, having to contend with stitches that required a return trip to hospital AND bleeding nipples because I was couldn’t get my latch right. At that precise moment in time, had someone approached me with a handful of shopping vouchers as motivation to soldier on, I would have cheerfully dismantled the bone structure of their nasal passages.
What would have helped me at the time whilst flooded with the feeling of total inadequacy at my inability to feed my child, already confounded by the fact I’d not had quite the tranquil birth experience I’d wanted, all whilst perched on one miserable buttock? Not a Matalan voucher, that’s for sure.
I am fortunate that I had the funds that get a lactation consultant round who pointed out that I’d been given bad advice and in under an hour quite simply fixed my latch. However, my next struggle came when attempting to do it in public. I had one of those shawls which protected my modesty but also meant I couldn’t see what I was doing and neither could my baby. The upshot of it all was that after 6 weeks I started expressing and bottle feeding which I did for the next 4 months until I reaslised it was in my best interests psychologically, to stop.
So when I was expecting my second son I decided that if I couldn’t manage to happily breast feed then, in the name of maintaining my sanity, I would be switching to formula without so much as a guilt trip in site. I had also, very subtly I hasten to add, conducted my own study, and come to the realisation that actually when a baby is attached to your chest, unless you have your entire boob on display there really isn’t much to see and generally (apart from one hilarious incident) people are far too embarrassed to clock your boobs anyway. So it was with confidence I conducted my first feed in public, sat over looking the skating rink at Broadgate Circle, at lunch time surrounded by approximately 80,000 city workers none of whom batted an eyelid. I can only apologise if that sounds like a stealth brag but I hope it demonstrates the journey I had to travel on, to nail it.
Ultimately it all came down to support. Having someone there who could show me how to do it. The whole doing it in public thing, well lets face it, that comes down to society in general's acceptance of breastfeeding in public.
Is it really groundbreaking that cafes and shops are now bearing stickers on their doors declaring that ‘breastfeeding is welcome’? Forgive my cynicism that a restaurant should declare that the act of feeding someone is welcome, in a restaurant you say? Whatever next, drinking in coffee shops? What is this madness. Forgetting my dim and narrow view point, I hasten to add that the Breastfeeding ambassadors, who take the time to go and talk to these establishments and distribute said stickers are incredible, and are single handedly breaking down the ridiculous brain washed, squeamish barriers that surround our views about breastfeeding.
So what is the solution?
More resources are needed to help women do it in the first place. It is a false assumption that it should be painless and easy. It’s hard, it does require perseverance but I don’t know anyone who decided not to do it because they just didn’t fancy it (although this lady didn’t do her demographic any favours). If the help was there then there isn’t a lactating lady I know who wouldn’t bite said helpful hand clean off. Picture this: a new arrivals ward at a hospital with a matriarchal army of ladies there to hold your hand (or left boob in my case) until you get it right. The breastfeeding counsellor on the ward of my hospital took 2 days to find me by which point my nipples were skin free. This is where the money should be spent surely? Or am I being self indulgent to suggest they spend the money on making a new and less patronising ‘breast might be best’ DVD?
I am not saying that incentivising is terrible idea that won’t work though, because there is another compelling argument to be considered. The UK has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in western Europe. I cannot even begin to imagine the social pressures of being a teen mum. In this demographic I can understand and forgive any squeamishness about breastfeeding (as a teenager, my very being made me squeamish) So is offering vouchers speaking in a language a young mum in a deprived area can understand? There is a strong chance that it is and while I might scoff at effectiveness of a John Lewis voucher, £200 is still a lot of money and it’s not cash, it will be spent on food and clothing of any (who cares!) description. Likewise if this did reach out to struggling single parent families then surely so what if it is incentivising, it’s working.
If it was successful in swaying just a tiny handful of mums to come round to the fact that, if you are able, then breastfeeding is actually ok. One tiny knock on effect (or should that be knocker) would make this scheme a resounding success. Where and if possible breastfeeding should be the norm. I watch and wait with great anticipation.