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Vouchers worth £200 offered to encourage breastfeeding

More than 4,000 women will be offered shopping vouchers for breastfeeding their baby in a new scheme.

Nourishing Start for Health (NOSH), which is being run by Sheffield University, aims to promote breastfeeding in areas where rates are low.

Researchers are offering £120 of shopping vouchers if the baby is breastfed for up to six weeks. Mothers will receive a further £80 if they continue to six months.

An initial trial launched in November 2013 found that half of all eligible women signed up for the scheme, and two thirds of them claimed their vouchers for breastfeeding their baby at six to eight weeks.

Mothers in the initial trial said they felt “acknowledged for their efforts”.

Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the RCM said that despite the “contentious” nature of promoting positive health behavior through cash rewards, the RCM is “interested in these initial findings” as there is a serious need to improve breastfeeeding rates.

In the trial scheme 34% of the 108 eligible women earned vouchers for breastfeeding at six to eight weeks.

Breastfeeding rates in the UK are among the lowest in the world. However, research suggests that the NHS could save more than £17 million in hospital admissions and GP visits if more women breastfed for longer.

However, Warwick also highlighted the importance of using other strategies to promote breast-feeding as a healthier choice for young babies.

She said  “The RCM believes that alternative ways of increasing breastfeeding rates also need attention. For example an increase in the numbers of midwives specialising in infant feeding will have a positive impact.

“There are also many innovative projects across the country that are improving breastfeeding rates such as using peer support groups. We need to learn from these and implement them on a much bigger scale.”

Principal investigator Dr Clare Relton from the University of Sheffield's School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR), said: “For several decades now the majority of babies in the UK have not been getting enough breast milk, and despite many efforts, this situation has not improved. Now we need to conduct the full trial to find out if offering vouchers for breastfeeding can significantly increase our stubbornly low breastfeeding rates and be a cost effective use of UK public funds.

“Last year, there was a lot of controversy about the scheme and we didn't know if it would be acceptable, so we have been delighted to see how enthusiastic local mothers and healthcare professionals have been.”