Soaring costs of infant formula will “force families to resort to unsafe feeding practices”
- Data published today 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.
- One Baby Bank has reported “an enormous increase in referrals for parents struggling to feed their little ones” due to formula price rises and warns that “without access to this basic essential, we will see babies in hospital, malnourished.”
- 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.
- Charities including BPAS, Feed, and Mumsnet are calling on the government to increase the Healthy Start allowance from £8.50 to £10 a week for infants to more realistically support families with formula-dependent infants.
Charities are today warning that increasing numbers of vulnerable families will be forced to resort to unsafe feeding practices due to the soaring cost of infant formula. The value of Healthy Start Vouchers, which are provided to women in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland who are pregnant or have young children and can be used to buy nutritious foods, is now 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.
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.[i]
Analysis by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, BPAS, has that the cost of infant formula rose rapidly over the last year. Between August 2021 and November 2022, the costs of major brands increased as follows:
- Mamia First Infant Milk (900g, Aldi) – the cheapest infant formula on the market – increased by 22% from £6.99 to £8.49.
- Aptamil 1 First Milk (800g) increased by 17% from £11.50 to £13.50
- Cow & Gate First Infant Milk (800g, Boots) increased by 14% from £8.75 to £10
- SMA Little Steps First Infant Milk (800g, Tesco) increased by 9% from £8.25 to £9
An independent inquiry conducted by the charity Feed has found that families unable to afford to purchase infant formula, or who have been unable to access formula due to food bank policies which restrict the redistribution of formula, resort to practices including watering down formula or feeding their babies with food that is not suitable, such as porridge.[ii] As a result, babies are at risk of being underfed.
Baby Banks have reported an increase in demand as more parents struggle to afford the basic essentials for their infants[iii]. While some Baby and Food Banks will provide families in need with infant formula, the largest networks – including the Trussell Trust and Fareshare – currently have policies in place which prevent their food banks from redistributing formula donations.[iv]
Research by Mumsnet has found that among their users:
- 87% have been worried about their finances in the last month, with 32% extremely or very worried
- 15% have accrued debt to pay for essentials in the last month
- 15% have skipped a meal to save money in the last month
The charities believe that improving access to breastfeeding support and challenging the exploitative practices within the infant formula industry are vital in the long term, but that action is needed now as families face an incredibly difficult winter. Charities are therefore calling on the government to protect the health and wellbeing of families and babies living in food poverty by increasing the value of Healthy Start allowance from £8.50 to £10 a week for infants to more realistically support families with formula-dependent infants.
Clare Murphy, BPAS Chief Executive, said:
“We know that families experiencing food poverty to resort to unsafe feeding methods, such as stretching out time between feeds and watering down formula. The government cannot stand by as babies are placed at risk of malnutrition and serious illness due to the cost of living crisis and the soaring price of infant formula.
Improving access to breastfeeding support and challenging the exploitative practices within the infant formula industry are vital in the long term, but it is clear that that action is needed now as families face an incredibly difficult winter. The government must increase the value of Healthy Start Vouchers to protect the health of the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society.”
Michelle Herd, Co-Founder of AberNecessites, a Baby Bank based in the North-East of Scotland, said:
“We have seen an enormous increase in referrals for parents struggling to feed their little ones due to the soaring prices of formula milk. We are dealing with the youngest babies in society – we must ensure they are fed. There is no other option.
We need to make sure that infant formula is available to families who need it – whether that be through food banks and baby banks. In addition, the government must investigate rising costs, particularly for vital products such as infant formula. Our fear is that without access to this basic essential, we will see babies in hospital, malnourished.”
Justine Roberts, Mumsnet Founder and CEO, said:
“As our Mumsnet Voices Cost of Living Tracker repeatedly shows, the cost of living crisis is affecting families across the board – but it is particularly shocking to hear that the soaring cost of formula milk means some parents are struggling to feed their babies.
“At Mumsnet we have repeatedly called for better infant feeding support for new mums – but it’s clear that we also need immediate practical action to support families on low incomes in these difficult times. The Government must act urgently to ensure no parent struggles to feed their baby this winter.”
Dr Erin Williams, Co-Founder and Director of the infant feeding charity Feed, said:
“Our research has found that current support for families is not enough to meet the rising costs of formula and that this is putting babies at risk and causing distress for struggling parents. Current guidelines around emergency formula provision are restrictive and open to misinterpretation, meaning that families are having to resort to ‘formula foraging’ to provide food for their babies.
As we brace ourselves for a really difficult winter, we need to make sure that formula is available when needed; this means providing adequate financial support for families over the long term, as well as maximising pathways for emergency access to formula right now, so no baby goes hungry this Christmas.”
For further information, please contact Katherine O’Brien, BPAS Associate Director of Campaigns and Communications, on katherine.o’firstname.lastname@example.org or 07881 265276.