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Tuesday, 25 April, 2000, 03:05 GMT 04:05 UK
Mothers could be 'paid' to breast-feed
Mother breastfeeding
The government wants more mothers to breastfeed
Mothers could be paid to breast-feed their babies under plans being considered by the government, it is reported.

Under the proposals, women would get food vouchers worth up to 10 a week in return for breast-feeding, according to the Daily Telegraph.

The vouchers would have to be spent on particular foods designated as "healthy", such as bread, fruit, milk or grains.

The scheme would be targeted at lower-income women, who are generally less likely to breastfeed than better-off mothers, says the Telegraph.

Babies being fed
Bottlefed babies are said to be more at risk of illness
At the moment, the mothers receive grants for baby milk powder, but experts advising the government as part of an NHS review are said to believe a financial incentive should now be offered to increase the number of children who are breastfed.

The scheme is said have the backing of representatives from the influential health think-tank, the Kings Fund.

Medical experts say breast milk provides all the nutrients a baby needs for a healthy start to life along with a range of other health benefits for both mother and baby.

Breastfeeding is believed by experts to protect babies against a wide range of illnesses, including gastro-enteritis, ear and chest infections, eczema, wheezing and even childhood diabetes.

Closer bonds

Antibodies from the mother's developed immune system are passed from the mother into her breast milk, protecting the baby against illnesses for up to a year if the infant is breastfed for three to four months.

Women are also said to regain their pre-pregnancy figures more quickly, and to form closer bonds with their children.

And researchers say the benefits even include nappies which are less unpleasant to change.

Last year the government launched a high-profile campaign to increase the number of breast-fed babies.

Female MPs

The rate is particularly low among Britain's poor, with just 50% of mothers in the lowest income bracket breast-feeding their baby at birth, compared with more than 90% in the highest income level.

Figures also show that by the time babies reach the age of four months, only a quarter are still being breast-fed.

Maternity Alliance director Christine Gowdridge said: "At the moment, women who breast-feed are not being given the same support as women who use formula milk.

"Vouchers for women who breast-feed would create a more level playing field and put an end to the mixed messages which the Government is sending out.

"The current situation seems to be saying `We will help you if you give formula milk to your baby but not if you breast-feed'."

She added: "We know just giving vouchers out won't transform the situation, but it may encourage women to breast-feed and at least gives them an equal choice."

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See also:

15 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Commons breastfeed ban under fire
12 Jul 99 | Health
Breast milk studied for toxins
04 Apr 99 | Health
British zeal for breastfeeding
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