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Breast-feeding vouchers: bribing ‘bad’ mothers

Divya Khan

Topics Politics

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The government has launched a pilot scheme to encourage new mothers in deprived areas of South Yorkshire and Derbyshire to breast-feed. What’s the going rate for parental autonomy these days? Two-hundred pounds, apparently – and in shopping vouchers, thanks. (If they gave them cash they might buy booze or cigarettes.)

It is strange how breast milk has become the most divisive of all bodily fluids. Why does anyone care what mums in South Yorkshire and Derbyshire do with their boobs and their babies? Perhaps it is merely that, in the eyes of pro-breast campaigners, the science has spoken – it’s healthier for your child, so you must do it. And not everyone can understand science, you see, especially Vicky Pollard types. It’s best to sweeten the deal with some coupons.

However, there seems to be something more to it. Breast-feeding now marks a dividing line between good, health-obsessed, middle-class mothers and bad, selfish, working-class mothers. Choosing the bottle over the breast is depicted, in middle-class circles, as the parental equivalent of giving up. Breast-feeding is supposed to be one of the sacrifices mothers make to ‘form a bond’ with their child. What’s more, as the NHS website suggests, breast-feeding ‘can give you a great sense of achievement’. Because now you’ve really fulfilled your role as a woman. Have a medal.

However, though it is dressed up as natural and intuitive, breast-feeding is hard, time-consuming and difficult to fit in for the more stretched, working-class mothers this scheme is targeting. Some mothers simply cannot afford to devote their time and energy to breast-feeding at a time when energy and rent prices are rocketing and many of them have to work to support their families.

Formula-feeding mothers aren’t going to change their behaviour and choices for a bunch of shopping vouchers. Rewarding breast-feeding in this way is merely a sinister way of assigning merit in society.

Divya Khan is a writer and student based in London.

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Topics Politics

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