We Shouldn't Pay Women to Breast-Feed

What Women Really Think
Nov. 12 2013 6:13 PM

U.K. Program Paying Moms to Breast-Feed. Perhaps We’ve Taken This Breast Milk Thing a Bit Too Far?

Mother breastfeeding baby in nursery.
That'll be £200, please.

iStockphoto

Four years ago, Slate’s own Hanna Rosin wrote in the Atlantic, “when people say that breast-feeding is ‘free,’ I want to hit them with a two-by-four. It’s only free if a woman’s time is worth nothing.” Well, a British study has now put a price on women’s time: £200. That’s the rate that researchers will pay a group of low-income women to continue breast-feeding until their babies are six months old. If this experiment works, the researchers will recommend that the government expand the program on a national level.

The aim, researchers say, is to destigmatize breast-feeding in certain communities, a noble goal. Certainly women who want to breast-feed, regardless of income, should have access to support. Still, this focus on breast-feeding feels a little out of whack, especially as many impoverished families would probably love £200 to pay for, say, childcare.

Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams compares the payment for breast-feeding with programs to encourage parents to immunize their children. That’s a stretch. Not immunizing or vaccinating your children? That could kill them, or other children around them. Not breast-feeding your children? You know what, all the research shows they will turn out just fine. Families are going to really crazy lengths—like buying breast milk off the Internet—to give their children what is at most a very small benefit.

Advertisement

What is almost never discussed in these exhortations to breast-feed is how hard it can be on mothers, particularly without social support. At the beginning, you are waking up several times a night to feed, and you’re exhausted and drained. If you don’t have a lot of help with your children—perhaps you are a single mother—and you have to go back to work, you might want those extra hours of rest more than you want £200. You might be able to be a better parent to your other kids with that extra sleep and energy, or you know, just a happier person.

Or maybe you’d like that £200 to help you pay for formula, because you can’t pump at work or simply don’t want to. What’s wrong with that, really? Certainly in places where access to safe drinking water is uncertain, formula, which you must mix with water, can be dangerous. But in England—and other developed nations—that’s not really a concern.

So while paying women off to breast-feed might actually work, it seems like a whole lot of energy and money that could be put to better use elsewhere. Unlike the British commentator at Sky News, I don’t find the offer of payment demeaning. I just don’t see how breast-feeding is so important we should consider spending government money to bribe women to do it.

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:58 PM The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

How Did the Royals Win Despite Bunting So Many Times? Bunting Is a Terrible Strategy.

Catacombs Where You Can Stroll Down Hallways Lined With Corpses

Homeland Is Good Again! For Now.

Crime

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

Trending News Channel
Oct. 1 2014 1:25 PM Japanese Cheerleader Robots Balance and Roll Around on Balls
  News & Politics
Crime
Oct. 1 2014 4:15 PM The Trials of White Boy Rick A Detroit crime legend, the FBI, and the ugliness of the war on drugs.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 3:02 PM The Best Show of the Summer Is Getting a Second Season
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 4:46 PM Ebola Is No Measles. That’s a Good Thing. Comparing this virus to scourges of the past gives us hope that we can slow it down.
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?