Supporting families with formula-fed infants

The Problem

Data shows that the cost of infant formula has soared over the last year – with the price of the cheapest brand increasing by 22% 

The current cash value of Healthy Start vouchers, £8.50 per week, is no longer enough to pay for the amount of infant formula needed to safely feed a baby in the first six months of their life. 

Research has found that parents experiencing poverty are also resorting to unsafe feeding practices, including skipping feeds, watering down formula or adding cereal. 

Unless there is action by the government, retailers, and formula companies, it is likely that there will be a significant rise in the number of families unable to feed their babies. 

NHS guidance recommends that babies are exclusively breastfed for the first year of their lives. However, data shows that the majority of babies will be partially or fully formula fed by the time they are 6-8 weeks old. The choice of how to feed a baby is one to be made by the mother and family. Many women opt not to breastfeed or face medical issues which means breastfeeding is either impossible or insufficient to provide the amount of milk their baby needs. 

What are BPAS calling for?

To rectify this situation the government must:  

  • Increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers. Healthy Start vouchers are designed to help low-income pregnant women and families with children under four to buy healthy food including formula milk. A 2012 Department of Health report found that 2.6m vouchers are issued every month, with 91% of them being spent. An All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infant Feeding report from 20188 found that the cost of formula varies from £6.44 to £13.52 a week. Healthy Start vouchers are worth only £3.10 per week (£6.20 for under-1s) – this value has not changed since 2009. 
  • Issue urgent guidance to make clear that foodbanks are allowed to provide infant formula milks and baby food and that provision of these supplies should not be disincentivised or opposed by local bodies; 
  • End the five-week wait for Universal Credit payments and the two-child benefit cap which can leave families struggling to feed their baby; and 
  • Consider how those with no recourse to public funds may access infant formula milk for their babies, a disproportionate amount of whom may be advised to given their babies infant formula milk rather than breastfeed as a result of British HIV Association guidelines.