That's right, not by arming them with a wealth of information to make a decision to provide the best start for their babies, but £200 of supermarket vouchers.
The scheme would give £80 to those mothers who breastfeed for six weeks and then a further £120 if they breastfeed for six months.
I honestly cannot begin to articulate how wrong this scheme is. Piloted in a deprived area, do they honestly believe bribing mothers with cash incentives is going to raise the breastfeeding rate?
Why aren't they focusing this money on promoting breastfeeding awareness, paying specialist lactation consultants to provide much needed support and advice to new mothers or even just employing more much needed midwives in hospitals who are trained to advise and guide with breastfeeding?
I can honestly say no amount of money would have changed my mind. I made a decision to breastfeed my son based on a lot of research I made whilst pregnant. To me, it was a no brainer. The benefits far outweighed the negatives.
I was possibly a mother who wouldn't have breastfeed, given my circumstances and situation. I was a first time mother who knew nobody else who had ever breastfed. I was a formula fed baby myself, as was my husband. I had never been around breastfeeding mothers, nor was it something I had any particular opinion on. Bottles were very much the norm - I even received packs and packs of them as gifts from friends and family whilst pregnant.
At the hospital I gave birth in, we were offered one half hour ante-natal class that dealt with breastfeeding, using a knitted boob. I shit you not.
That was it, that was and is the total amount of breastfeeding awareness most women receive from the NHS, unless they seek it out themselves. The area I live in does not have an NCT group or anything of the kind, so I had to really go out there and find out information for myself. Thankfully I did and made the decision my baby would not be formula fed.
Immediately after my son
That was it! MAGIC! I had this breastfeeding malarkey down to a fine art. Simples. I was a lactation EXPERT. I felt like a goddess.
Except, it wasn't. And I wasn't. At all. Fast forward a few hours and back on the ward post delivery, I had a midwife come and hurriedly check my positioning and baby's latch - she confirmed we had no issues and could therefore be discharged the next morning providing the consultant found no problems.
My baby, for the first and last time in his life, slept the whole night through.
We woke the next morning and as would be expected, I started trying to feed him straight away. At this point, the midwives were bringing the trolly round with the bottle of formula for every other mother (I was the only one on a ward of six who wasn't formula feeding) as they passed my bay, they drew the curtains round my bed completely.
I was both shocked and concerned by this - was this because they felt they were preserving my modesty, or that of the other mothers? Not a very good pro-breastfeeding message to be sending out. I felt as though I should be ashamed and hidden away like a circus freak.
As the hours went by until we could be on our way home, something didn't feel quite right. It didn't feel as though my baby was actually feeding and it felt so uncomfortable and awkward trying to get him to latch on - he kept 'falling off'
I buzzed for a midwife to come and help me. A young girl, probably younger than me arrived and popped her head around the curtain - I explained my problem and she looked totally baffled and said she would go and get the senior midwife.
After about 15 minutes of frantically and frustratingly trying to get my son so stay on my boob, I heard the young and senior midwife arrive outside my bay (curtains still drawn)
the younger midwife was explaining to the senior what I had explained and the senior midwife tutted loudly, sighed and said "She was fine last night, what is the fuss about"
I felt so awkward and like such a trouble causer, if it wasn't for my obstinate streak I probably would have caved under the myriad of emotions coursing through my body and cried "pass me the SMA" faster than my son had crowned.
We were still discharged half an hour later, with me even more confused about breast feeding than ever.
The next week dragged by in a blur of intense pain, hysterical bouts of tears and an intense hatred of this supposedly natural and beneficial way of feeding my baby.
I was beginning to resent the baby who wanted to feed ALL. DAY. LONG.
I had no time to eat, sleep, visit the bathroom, even think for myself. Every time he fidgeted at my breast I knew it was 'that time' and I felt sick to the pit of my stomach. I would wail and sob and my son, sensing my stress and pain would also wail and sob. Ever tried poking a nipple that felt as though it was being crushed with razorblades, shards of glass and barbed wire into a screaming baby's gob and trying to get it to stay there?
I was in AGONY. My mother in law, seeing me in such a state immediately left the house and returned an hour later armed with a huge tin of cow and gate.
My husband felt helpless.
Each time I fed my son, I had to grip something tightly and BITE a pillow. Honestly. The pain had me screaming and jumping out of my seat, so to stifle the pained shrieks I had to bite a pillow.
No amount of lanolin cream or cold cabbage leaves helped. I felt emotional, exhausted, defeated and unable of completing such a basic task. In my discharge notes from the hospital was a torn off piece of paper with 'Breastfeeding Helpline' printed on it and a telephone number. One night, when the pain became just too much and I could barely look at my poor little boy anymore, my husband called the number. The number turned out to be that of the post-delivery ward I had just left days previous. He explained the situation to a very unsympathetic midwife who denied all knowledge of a breastfeeding helpine. It clearly didn't exist. She claimed no such thing existed and if my soon was producing wet and dirty nappies, he was 'probably okay' and I should just talk to my midwife/health visitor next time she called.
At this point I was practically stood over the kettle ready to make up bottles of formula. Why did nobody care or want to help me? We were told under no circumstances to call the ward again unless my son had stopped producing dirty and wet nappies. After four solid days of no sleep and round-the-clock fruitless suckling, I wailed a lot more at this point.
This was nothing like the midwife showed me with the woolly boob. They don't tell you any of this at ante-natal or prior to giving birth. They paint a wonderfully rosy picture of a pain free experience - milk literally gushing forth from thine breasts and a happy, contempt baby immune to x,y and z illnesses, full of protective anti-bodies and I would return to my size 12 jeans in week (who am I kidding, I've never been a size 12)
When a visit eventually came from my midwife (well, 3 of them due to them leaving their jobs!) were equally unhelpful - "top him up with formula" "just give up, give him a bottle" they even gave me a lesson in how to make up bottles 'just in case'.
We even tried it, once. Out of sheer desperation I gave the bottle and my son to my husband to feed him (not to confuse the poor baby, why was lovely milky smelly mammy trying to shove a plastic nipple with fake milk in into his mouth) and he promptly GUZZLED the entire thing and within minutes, projectile vomited the entire bottle back up again ruining our mattress which now stank of stale milk. I couldn't even formula feed my son! What an absolute failure of a mother I was. This series of event is eventually what lead to a several year long bout of severe post natal depression, but that is a different blog post entirely...
Despite the excruciating pain, worse than that of my drug-free natural labour, these midwives and the failed formula feed only pushed me further to want to keep on breastfeeding. I would NOT be defeated. I am as stubborn as a mule, if nothing else.
I googled, I youtubed, I read La Leche Leauge websites until I could roll my eyes sarcastically no more.
Something clicked...my son was trying his best to latch on but seemed to be getting nowhere, then I read about tongue tie. It all made sense. *I* myself am tongue tied!
Now I knew what was wrong, I found every possible solution and tried them all.
I even brought our son into bed with us out of sheer exhaustion and we slept! WE ALL SLEPT SOLIDLY FOR NEARLY FOUR HOURS!
You see the excellent thing about boobs is that your baby can sniff them out and latch on all by themselves.
For the first few months I would wake and ensure he would get an adequate feed and swap sides if necessary, but eventually we learned to co-sleep and feed dreamily without disturbing anyone. It felt blissful.
You don't have to traipse downstairs at 4am in the cold to make up a boob feed and then wait for it to cool while your baby hysterically screams themselves into a frenzy. They should use THAT as an incentive, nevermind £200 vouchers.
It turned out he did have slight tongue tie and the best, most relaxing position for us to feed was lying down. He latched so much better and fed much more efficiently this way.
But it was no thanks to the medical profession for their lack of support and guidance.
I don't even blame them. They are severely understaffed and not adequately trained to deal with breastfeeding more than just giving an overview with a knitted knocker.
THIS is why I am so incensed and enraged at the breastfeeding bribery with shopping vouchers.
For goodness sake plough this money into more midwives, into specialist lactation consultants who are there for your after you have given birth. Someone who can come into your home and help and support you to keep on breastfeeding, not just teach you how to formula feed when it all goes tits up (pun very much intended)
Mothers aren't going to choose to breastfeed until they are made fully aware of their options and the benefits and without knowing their is a solid support system behind them. Let's work towards the way the rest of Europe views breastfeeding - not as the BEST but the NORM. It should be general method of feeding your baby unless medically or physically impossible (formula was, after all, invented as a medical substitute for cases of maternal mortality or severe illness)
I am a rare case. Most people would have gone through this and given up and who can blame them? I would certainly not pass judgement.
Breastfeeding is one of the hardest and at times most unrewarding thing I have ever done.
Once my problem had been put right however, I continued to feed my son for 18 months. I still have flashbacks and worrying thoughts however and I will admit to feeling apprehensive about going through it all again with the new baby.
Offering cash reward isn't going to suddently change decades of ill conceived, misinformed pre-conception. Until the government spends some money on a struggling health service, promotes breastfeeding in a positive light and stops pacifying the underhand and misleading formula companies - they are fighting a losing (and expensive) battle.
What are your thoughts on incentivised breastfeeding?