What’s this? Me getting involved in current affairs and debate?! Regular readers will know this isn’t really my style. I’m much more likely to be found writing about my children’s dislike of carrots.
I’m the kind of person who doesn’t have strong opinions. I can usually see both sides to an argument and I hate conflict. And if I do have strong opinions, I tend to keep them to myself for fear of offending and upsetting others. But I do have quite strong opinions on breastfeeding.
People who know me see me as the breastfeeding police, as well as someone to turn to for advice. I spent three and a half years of my life breastfeeding, so I should have some half decent experience to share. If people ask for it. I won’t force my advice and opinions down their throats.
My view on breastfeeding is that everyone should be able to breastfeed. IF THAT IS WHAT THEY WANT TO DO. Yes, it’s best for the child, yes it’s usually better for the mum too, yes it’s cheaper and more convenient. But mums should still have the choice.
What about those who can’t breastfeed? My belief is that nearly everyone can. They just need the right support. For some people they will need that support for longer.
It’s not easy, nobody claims it is. Some women choose not to persist, others soldier on. Most will get there in the end.
I struggled to feed my eldest. He was three days old before he’d swallowed a single mouthful of milk. I knew this in my heart, but the midwives in hospital wouldn’t listen to me. What did I know? A first time mum? Well it turns out I knew my own body and my own baby better than they did.
So I was discharged from hospital, my son lost over a pound of his rather petite 7lb and then fell asleep for a really long time. Only then did I get the support I needed. My midwife came out to me late at night and spent hours with us. She helped me express (which I hated, but needs must) and, yes, we had to give him a little bit of formula. But with her support and my persistence, we made it. My son breastfed for 10 months.
Does everyone get that kind of support? I suspect not. But it would be brilliant if they could.
And so to today’s news. Payment in vouchers for women to breastfeed for six months. Good or bad?
Right now I don’t know enough about the scheme to be sure one way or another. I do know it’s a pilot in some fairly deprived areas of the country. Areas where, no doubt, breastfeeding rates are very low. I do know that breastfeeding has long term health benefits for a child – in boosting immunity, helping maintain a healthy weight and even preventing ear infections for up to seven years. Between my three kids, they’ve had just two ear infections in their entire lives. Coincidence? Probably not.
I don’t know how they will manage this scheme – do they make the payment beforehand and then trust the woman to see her six months through? Or do they spy on her? Maybe they make the payment after the six months is over? Is it for exclusive breastfeeding or for simply not giving up? I went back to work when all of mine were 6 months old, so had no choice but to introduce bottles from 5 months. But I didn’t give up though!
Presumably the costs of paying out £200 per woman have been weighed up against the cost of doctor’s visits, prescriptions and long-term health prospects? Two hundred pounds can be swallowed up VERY quickly in NHS services for a child.
So is incentivising women to breastfeed a good idea or a bad one? In my married, middle class world where breastfeeding is the norm, it might seem like a bad one. But actually, if it can help change the culture and the health of children in areas where it isn’t the norm, maybe JUST MAYBE, it might be a good one.