Milk Vouchers

So this idea about paying mothers with £200 shopping vouchers to breastfeed for six months. That really narked me this morning on my drive in.

To distort the words of Tony Hancock, it’s like a quid for a boobful. More like a penny for a jug. Talk about trivialising the major commitment that breastfeeding is. Talk about failing to appreciate that the reasons women choose the bottle or stop breastfeeding are many and complex. Talk about failing to acknowledge the mother’s experience.

Don’t kid yourself that ANYONE is going to spend an hour in every four continuously latched onto a sucking machine day in day out for a full six month period for the price of a weeks sodding groceries. A lot of my clients are mums from difficult backgrounds. Most, but not all, go with the bottle. A £200 voucher in the hand would no doubt be welcome to many of them, but it is a feint and distant promise for a mum confronted with the daily reality of caring for a newborn. 6 months is a far far horizon when you are kneedeep in size one nappies. It may well be true that breastfeeding saves on the faff of sterilising and washing up bottles, but it also prevents a mum from sharing the load with dad or with granny. Breastfeeding can add pressure in a very concrete way because it is by it’s nature solely mum’s responsibility (unless you have a wet nurse). There is minimal respite when you are breastfeeding.

No new Mother, whether she be middle class, working class, of whatever level of education, needs to be undermined. The pressure to be the perfect mummy is insidious, overwhelming, and often self inflicted. Breast is no doubt best for a number of reasons, but it is not the only factor to consider. A mother who is in constant agony, distressed, distracted by her own sense of failure is in no position to be the best mother she can be.

I successfully breastfed one child to ten months, having gone back to work after 3, and although I couldn’t have done it without a breastpump and a fair amount of top up by the end, it was rewarding if hard work. Second time around was a nightmare. It was agonising, demoralising, awful. I wept for six weeks (or that is at least my recollection). It was a round of continuous “you can do it” messages from doubtless midwives and breastfeeding specialists, interposed with prescriptions for more antibiotics. I should have given up long before the 3 months but I’d done it once and could not countenance failing to give my second child what I gave my first. Of course I was a fool, but happily neither child is, so far as I can tell, broken as a result. And I can tell you now that if any kindly woman had attempted to incentivise me to press on through yet another bout of mastitis by waving a poxy voucher in my face she’d have got a pretty tart reply.

If you’ll excuse a pun. This idea sucks.

Spend £80 on providing women with a decent electric breastpump and a stock of nipple cream instead – that would be better than a squirt in the eye.

10 thoughts on “Milk Vouchers

  1. For separated mothers who don’t want the baby to have a relationship with the father just tell them it can be used to deny contact. Suddenly they can breastfeeding at 2 hourly intervals for a year or more – it’s miraculous!

  2. Good article expressing – sorry – similar views in today’s Guardian

    Personal experiences are very important as well as being emotive.

  3. Over coffee this morning a colleague of mine asked how it is going to be enforced and the discussion became more than a tad Rabelaisian!

  4. Your conclusion has absolutely nailed it Lucy.

    When my little one was born his mother tried to breast feed but she was unable to share the load with me. I wanted to help but couldn’t do anything except change his nappy, which was pointless because she had to get up anyway.

    At one point she was so tired that she fell asleep while feeding him and nearly dropped him. She tried a mechanical breast pump but it never worked well enough and we couldn’t afford an electric one so we ended up using formula.

    Would £200 have changed our minds? We might have decided to spend it on an electric pump, but I’m not sure, and I think a lot of people wouldn’t.

    • Don’t get me wrong, I’m still pro breastfeeding, but the dogma about how it is always better and always possible doesn’t reflect the complexity of real life or the choices and compromises we all have to make as parents in order to give the best of ourselves for our kids overall. New parents truly believe there is such a thing as a perfect parents and go to ridiculous lengths to achieve that. Looking back I just wish I could have been a more relaxed new parent, rather than compounding external pressure with internal pressure. I think that would have benefitted my kids.

  5. Mothers on low incomes are currently entitled to Healthy Start vouchers which can be spent on fruit and veg, milk and FORMULA (presumably because feckless poor mothers would have already spent their giro on fags, booze and satellite TV and need vouchers to remind them to feed their kids). So, on the one hand we have government actively facilitating women on lower incomes to formula feed their babies, and now we have a similar, albeit longer term, incentive to breastfeed. Hurrah for joined-up thinking!

    I breastfed because, fortunately, I found it easy and convenient. Patronizing financial incentives wouldn’t have made a jot of difference. Just like being given £6.20 per week in vouchers did not encourage me to switch to formula or buy any more fruit and veg than I would have done anyway. Patronizing, paternalistic tosh.

  6. excellent thoughts Lucy. I’ve been reading a lot about this over the past day and agree with your conclusions.

    I’ve no doubt that scheme comes from a good place, but the realities of breast feeding is that there are far more intricacies than can be legislated for on a voucher scheme. Not least of which are how do you enforce it (and who enforces it). Do the “would if I could” candidates also qualify and where is the line to be drawn and what factors are taken into account?

    As you say, there is already too much pressure (external and internal) on new mums and that money would be far better spent on support (or handing out electric breast pumps?).

  7. My wife was bullied by the breastfeeding police, as one commentator on the Guardian article called them; they ordered me to leave and only gave way on that when my wife said “I’m not listening if he is not here”.

    They regarded her deliberate preference for the bottle as wrong and weak and said so. To a woman with a baby a few hours old.

    My wife did not give way, and there’s a big hulking man of 28 who calls me Dad and proves that (in societies with access to clean water) formula can work – a fact known, let me add, to widowed fathers every since formula was invented.

    She and I competed to give my son his bottle, I enjoyed the night shift – finding that I too could turn a wet and hungry squealer into a warm, dry, well-fed and contented sleeper – and into the bargain both her younger brothers learnt the Magic Arts of the Bottle and the Nappy, which stood them in good stead a few years later.

    Happy days, forgive my reminiscing!

  8. Actually, Catherine, it’s more like matronizing, maternalistic tosh; the pressure on women to breastfeed who don’t want to comes largely from women.

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