In a new initiative, the U.K. will offer mothers vouchers as incentive to breastfeed, the BBC reports. The scheme promises mothers £120 ($190) in coupons at stores like Poundstretcher, Asda, and Tesco for breastfeeding for the first six weeks after birth, with a £80 ($127) bonus for those still breastfeeding at six months. It's currently being piloted in lower-income areas of South Yorkshire and Derbyshire — chosen for their exceptionally low breastfeeding rates. If deemed successful, a nationwide pilot could be rolled out next year.
The U.K. has some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the developed world, and they've dropped further this year. According to Clare Relton, the Sheffield University expert leading the project, only 34 percent of British mothers breastfeed their babies exclusively for the first six months — as recommended by the country's national health service — and babies born into lower-income families are four times less likely to be breastfed at six weeks than those in affluent families.
Critics have been quick to renounce the voucher program as demeaning bribery; writing for Sky News, Anuskhka Asthana criticizes the initiative for assuming that women who opt out of breastfeeding do so lightly, while Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams argues that financial reward is in the interest of the infant's well-being. Meanwhile, Louisa Symington-Mills points out in the Telegraph that breastfeeding already has a financial incentive: saving money on formula.