Four words in a headline made me do a double-take yesterday: “paying moms to breastfeed.”
My initial reaction was, “Yes! Sign me up!” followed by some off-key humming of the O’Jays’ “For the Love Of Money.” Yes, it would mean putting off my plans to wean Bitey McChomperson this month, but I figured I could just use some of the extra cash for more lanolin and pain relievers … the rest, meanwhile, I would set aside for a vacation, or a new outfit, or one of those fancy juicer things that makes spinach cocktails.
Alas, my dreams of conspicuous consumption were dashed when I read on — the breastfeeding compensation program is just a small pilot initiative in the U.K. for low-income women in communities where, as The Guardian reports, “breastfeeding is in effect stigmatised.”
As a middle-class American who blogs about her own breastfeeding experiences constantly and publishes her posts on the web for thousands (OK, dozens) to read, I’m guessing I don’t qualify. Breastfeeding doesn’t make me feel stigmatized. Sore sometimes, yes. Stigmatized, no.
Back to the program: the U.K.’s Sheffield University plans to provide up to £200 — nearly $320 –in shopping vouchers over the course of six months to 130 women who breastfeed their babies. Researchers there want to determine whether a financial incentive would lead women to overcome unfortunate “cultural barriers against breastfeeding.”
“Mums and babies have better outcomes if they breastfeed. In parts of the UK infant formula feeding is the norm. Mums haven’t been breastfed themselves and haven’t seen anyone breastfeeding. The skills required have been lost in some communities,” said Sheffield University’s Dr Clare Relton.
Not surprisingly, a number of folks across the pond have likened the plan to bribery and have come out against it. That even includes the Royal College of Midwives, which said in a statement that “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,” according to Salon.
Here in the U.S., reactions are mixed, even among the nursing moms who I heard from.
Like me, breastfeeding veteran Heather S. Klinefelter wouldn’t have minded seeing some cash thrown her way.
“I breastfed for 6 years – would have LOVED to be paid for it!” she said in a Facebook message.
Another mom likened breastfeeding compensation to the free formula samples available to new moms: “Women get free formula. That’s getting paid to use formula, isn’t it?”
But mom Stephanie Flach told me those British pounds should be used for other things.
“I think the money would be better spent on free lactation consultants or pumps for those who need it, prenatal breastfeeding education, educating their employers on what it takes to pump at work, mandatory education of day care workers on how to feed a breastfed baby,” she said.
Salon staff writer Mary Elizabeth Williams argues that society can work toward improving support for breastfeeding women and changing attitudes toward nursing…but that shouldn’t stop the Sheffield experiment.
“Isn’t it worth seeing, however they’re initially motivated, whether mothers who otherwise wouldn’t breast-feed at all might discover that nursing can be cheap and easy and very nice and whether they can then encourage their friends to do likewise?” she wrote.
What do you think? Should women in low-breastfeeding communities be compensated for nursing their children?
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Photo via morgueFile.