Effect of Financial Incentives on Breastfeeding: A Cluster Randomized Clinical Trial

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Abstract

Importance

Although breastfeeding has a positive effect on an infant’s health and development, the prevalence is low in many communities. The effect of financial incentives to improve breastfeeding prevalence is unknown.

Objective

To assess the effect of an area-level financial incentive for breastfeeding on breastfeeding prevalence at 6 to 8 weeks post partum.

Design, Setting, and Participants

The Nourishing Start for Health (NOSH) trial, a cluster randomized trial with 6 to 8 weeks follow-up, was conducted between April 1, 2015, and March 31, 2016, in 92 electoral ward areas in England with baseline breastfeeding prevalence at 6 to 8 weeks post partum less than 40%. A total of 10 010 mother-infant dyads resident in the 92 study electoral ward areas where the infant’s estimated or actual birth date fell between February 18, 2015, and February 17, 2016, were included. Areas were randomized to the incentive plus usual care (n = 46) (5398 mother-infant dyads) or to usual care alone (n = 46) (4612 mother-infant dyads).

Interventions

Usual care was delivered by clinicians (mainly midwives, health visitors) in a variety of maternity, neonatal, and infant feeding services, all of which were implementing the UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative standards. Shopping vouchers worth £40 (US$50) were offered to mothers 5 times based on infant age (2 days, 10 days, 6-8 weeks, 3 months, 6 months), conditional on the infant receiving any breast milk.

Main Outcomes and Measures

The primary outcome was electoral ward area-level 6- to 8-week breastfeeding period prevalence, as assessed by clinicians at the routine 6- to 8-week postnatal check visit. Secondary outcomes were area-level period prevalence for breastfeeding initiation and for exclusive breastfeeding at 6 to 8 weeks.

Results

In the intervention (5398 mother-infant dyads) and control (4612 mother-infant dyads) group, the median (interquartile range) percentage of women aged 16 to 44 years was 36.2% (3.0%) and 37.4% (3.6%) years, respectively. After adjusting for baseline breastfeeding prevalence and local government area and weighting to reflect unequal cluster-level breastfeeding prevalence variances, a difference in mean 6- to 8-week breastfeeding prevalence of 5.7 percentage points (37.9% vs 31.7%; 95% CI for adjusted difference, 2.7% to 8.6%; P < .001) in favor of the intervention vs usual care was observed. No significant differences were observed for the mean prevalence of breastfeeding initiation (61.9% vs 57.5%; adjusted mean difference, 2.9 percentage points; 95%, CI, −0.4 to 6.2; P = .08) or the mean prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding at 6 to 8 weeks (27.0% vs 24.1%; adjusted mean difference, 2.3 percentage points; 95% CI, −0.2 to 4.8; P = .07).

Conclusions and Relevance

Financial incentives may improve breastfeeding rates in areas with low baseline prevalence. Offering a financial incentive to women in areas of England with breastfeeding rates below 40% compared with usual care resulted in a modest but statistically significant increase in breastfeeding prevalence at 6 to 8 weeks. This was measured using routinely collected data.

Trial Registration

International Standard Randomized Controlled Trial Registry: ISRCTN44898617.

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