Parents are stealing baby formula, turning to the black market and watering down their babies’ feed as soaring prices drive them to desperation.
If you are struggling to afford baby formula, here are some things that could help:
Buying formula – what is best and cheapest?
First off, there is no “best” when it comes to formula.
The core ingredients of all formula are the same, whether it’s supermarket own-brand or more expensive branded products.
That’s because the composition of all infant formula is strictly controlled under UK-wide regulations.
According to research by Which?, the cheapest baby formula milk is from Kendamil and for most baby formula milk powders, Asda and Morrisons tend to have the best price.
Aldi has an own-brand formula which slightly beats the price of Kendamil from Asda, at £1.04 per 100g compared to £1.11.
First stage formula is the only formula needed until a child turns one, at which point parents can switch to whole cow’s milk.
Desperate parents stealing baby formula
Accessing a food bank or baby bank
Feed, a charity that supports parents with infant feeding, has put together an interactive map of food and baby banks that offer emergency infant formula. Little Village HQ also has a map of baby banks.
These organisations can also signpost to local services that can help over the longer term.
You can also contact these food banks if you would like to help out by donating formula.
Not all food banks offer formula. There are no laws against it but Unicef guidelines caution against it as babies may receive the wrong type of formula.
Organisations including Feed and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) have called for these guidelines to change.
The Independent Food Aid Network offers a members map where you can find out about food banks in your constituency.
Some of these may follow Unicef guidelines and not offer formula, but they may provide vouchers so you can buy formula from the supermarket.
Getting help from your local authority or social services
All local authorities should have an emergency formula provision pathway in place under Unicef guidelines.
The best way to access this is to talk to your health visitor or midwife.
Katherine O’Brien, a spokesperson for BPAS, advised parents and carers who are struggling to feed a formula-fed baby to talk to their health visitor who can signpost them to local support.
Social services may be able to provide emergency formula out-of-hours. You can use your postcode to find your local children’s social services.
Healthy Start or Best Start cards
If you’re on a qualifying benefit and are pregnant or have a child under four, you can apply for a Healthy Start card (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) or Best Start card (in Scotland).
There is more information on who is eligible and how to apply on the NHS website.
The card is loaded with money that can be used to buy healthy food and milk – including formula.
However, the amount of money for an under-1 – £8.50 a 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, according to BPAS.
If your child has a cow’s milk allergy
If your baby is diagnosed with a cow’s milk allergy, your GP can prescribe a hypoallergenic infant formula.
NHS Start for Life offers a range of support for parents who are bottle feeding.
You can also find straightforward advice on how to safely feed your baby with formula on the NHS website.
What not to do
If you’re struggling to afford formula, it may be tempting to try to make it go further by not following the instructions on the tub.
Watering down formula, adding solids such as baby rice to it, delaying feeding or switching to cow’s milk before a baby is developmentally ready all carry “significant risks for your baby’s health”, according to Feed.
Sky News will be discussing Tom Parmenter’s report on infant formula at 3.30pm with a panel of experts. Tune in on Freeview channel 233, Sky channel 501, Virgin 603 and BT 313.