New measures are being tested by researchers in ScHARR in an effort to improve breastfeeding rates. The initial stage of the pioneering project will test whether it is feasible to offer shopping vouchers to mothers in neighbourhoods with low breastfeeding rates in Derbyshire and South Yorkshire.
Mothers will be offered shopping vouchers worth up to £120 if their babies receive breastmilk until they are six weeks old and a further £80 if their babies continue to receive breastmilk up to six months.
Breastfeeding has a wide range of short and long term health benefits for both mothers and babies. Breastfeeding can help prevent a number of illnesses in children and also reduce costs to the National Health Service. However, breastfeeding levels in the UK are one of the lowest in the world, with six to eight week breastfeeding rates being 20 per cent or less in some parts of the UK.
Principal investigator Dr Clare Relton, from ScHARR's Public Health section, said: “Babies who are breastfed have fewer health problems such as upset tummies and chest infections, and are less likely to develop diabetes and obesity when they are older.
"Breastmilk is perfectly designed for babies and provides all they need for the first six months of their life. The NOSH Scheme offers vouchers to mothers who breastfeed as a way of acknowledging both the value of breastfeeding to babies, mothers and society, and the effort involved in breastfeeding”
"Offering financial incentives for mothers to breastfeed might increase the numbers of babies being breastfed, and complement on-going support for breastfeeding provided by the NHS, Local Authorities and charities."
The Nourishing Start for Health (NOSH) study is fully funded by the National Prevention Research Initiative (NPRI).
Researchers at the University of Sheffield are collaborating with experts in infant feeding research at the University of Dundee and health economics at Brunel University. If the initial stage is successful then the financial incentive scheme will be fully evaluated in a national study during 2014-2015.
Dr Relton has featured heavily in both local and national news, appearing on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme and ITV breakfast news. Click here to see an interview featured on the ITV news website.