|Caitlin at 9 months in August 2008|
From this week, new mums in parts of Yorkshire and Derbyshire will be offered £120 in high street shopping vouchers if they sign up to declare they have breast fed their baby for 6 weeks. They will get the £80 balance if they continue to breast feed for six months. If the scheme is successful, it has been mooted to roll it out nationwide.
Leaving aside the stunning flaw in this 'cunning plan' - i.e. that there is no actual way i) to prove the babies are breast-fed or ii) that the money is not spent on booze and fags, isn't this the Nanny State going too far?
When I was pregnant with Caitlin in 2007 there was a subtle, continuous pressure from nursing and midwifery staff to breast feed. I dutifully went to the ante-natal classes for a session on breast feeding. I was fully prepared to give Caitlin the best start I could. The actual experience was not the milky, Laura Ashley and Mother Earth experience I was expecting. For a start I found it really difficult to express - it hurt and I had the midwife round to the house twice (she was patience personified) to explain how to position my nipple correctly. You do not, as I thought, just stick the baby on to your breast and let them get on with it.
After ten weeks of sitting through entire episodes of Midsomer Murders during which Caitlin seemed to suck constantly but ineffectively, I became worried as her weight began to drop. I was clearly producing insufficient milk - possibly due to my age of 43. After 10 weeks I was really worried and it took one particularly down-to-earth midwife to say "look, you don't need our permission to stop breast feeding. If it's not working, try formula.". Even though I felt like a failure, I swopped to SMA formula and Caitlin thrived from then on.
When Ieuan was born in 2009, I put him on formula straight away. I was then 45 and decided that since my first attempt at breast feeding hadn't been a success, I didn't want to risk a similar experience with him. And you know what? All the extra stress and upset I went through with Caitlin meant I had less time to bond with her, to cuddle her without the extra worry - just to spend those precious first moments enjoying my new baby. She was born by emergency caesarean so I had to recover from the operation at the same time as wrestle with breast feeding.
I don't think you can dictate to a new mum what is right for her. And I object to making women who don't want to or for whatever reason can't breast feed, feel guilty or 'less' - and Lord knows there are enough "sainted" mothers who look down on those of us who have had caesareans as somehow having copped out without adding breast feeding into the mix.
As for offering £200 to enforce breastfeeding, frankly, I would rather see the money put towards improving the education of young people about contraception. And in any case, given the pressure A&E units are under and given yesterday's news that the number of drop in medical centres is decreasing thus putting extra pressure on A&E, or the difficulty the NHS seems to be having to recruit midwives, surely this is where the money should be going.
To new mums out there I say, don't feel guilty. You are absolutely NOT a failure. Do what you feel is right. As my feisty midwife said to me - if mum is happy, the baby is happy.