Breastfeeding rates increase when financial incentives given, finds new study

Results of a study which saw breastfeeding rates rise when new mums were given vouchers, have today been published.

The study which was published by the University of Sheffield, recruited more than 10,000 new mothers across South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and North Nottinghamshire and offered shopping vouchers worth up to £120 if their babies received breastmilk (breastfeeding or expressed milk) at two days, 10 days and six weeks old. A further £80 of vouchers was available if their babies continued to receive breastmilk up to six months.

The study found:

  • Breastfeeding increased in areas where shopping vouchers were offered to mothers
  • 46% of all eligible mothers signed up to the scheme and over 40% claimed at least one voucher for breastfeeding
  • Women reported that the vouchers were an incentive to continue breastfeeding

Responding to the study, Professor Mary Fewtrell, Nutrition Lead for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said:

“Breastfed babies have fewer chest and ear infections, and increased scores on tests of intelligence in childhood, so we welcome all attempts to improve the prevalence of breast-feeding in the UK.

“The UK has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world with prevalence particularly low among very young mothers and disadvantaged socio-economic groups, potentially widening existing health inequalities and contributing further to the cycle of deprivation. This new study, which took place in a population with a very low rate of breastfeeding, showed that the provision of shopping vouchers was effective in increasing breastfeeding. We wish to see bold alternative ways of improving societal attitudes to breast-feeding and question whether in the long-term financial incentives are likely to provide the necessary stimulus on their own. In this regard we are pleased that the study was designed together with healthcare staff to make sure support services were widely available in all the areas where the trial took place and that the scheme was perceived to have helped changed the culture and attitude towards breastfeeding so it became 'more normal'.”