An increasing number of vulnerable households will be forced to resort to unsafe feeding practices as the cost of infant formula rises, charities have warned.
The cost of formula has soared over the past year, with the price of the cheaper brand rising by 22%, according to analysis by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS).
Healthy Start vouchers currently provide women in England, Wales and Northern Ireland who are pregnant or have young children with £8.50 a week, which can be used to buy nutritious food, meaning there is no longer enough to pay for amount of formula needed to safely feed a baby in the first six months of life, BPAS said.
NHS guidelines recommend that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first year of life. However, the figures suggest that most babies will be partially or fully formula fed by six to eight weeks of age.
The charity Feed said families unable to afford enough formula had resorted to watering down the product or feeding their babies unsuitable foods, such as porridge.
The largest food bank networks currently have policies in place that prevent their food banks from redistributing formula donations.
Guidelines issued by Unicef in November 2020 and backed by the UK government leave food banks reluctant to distribute infant formula.
Unicef warns that “while on the surface” food banks “seem to be a practical solution”, distributing formula “can be a risky practice that can inadvertently cause harm”.
The children’s charity warns that food bank staff and volunteers cannot help families ‘feed their babies as safely as possible’ in the same way that trained professionals such as health visitors and midwives can.
The National Health Service states that cow’s milk should not be given to a child under the age of one.
The charities are calling on the government to increase the value of the Healthy Start allowance from £8.50 to £10 per week for babies “to more realistically support families with infants dependent on formula”.
BPAS Chief Executive Clare Murphy said: “We know that families experiencing food poverty resort to unsafe feeding methods, such as extending the time between meals and watering down formula.
“The government cannot stand by as children are exposed to the risk of malnutrition and serious illness due to the cost-of-living crisis and the increase in the price of infant formula.
“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 baby bank AberNecessities, based in north-east Scotland, said: “We have seen a huge increase in reports of parents struggling to feed their little ones due to rising milk prices. artificial.
“We need to make sure that infant formula is available to families who need it, whether through food banks or baby banks. Additionally, the government needs to investigate rising costs, especially for vital products such as infant formula.
“Our fear is that without access to this essential essential, we will see children in the hospital, malnourished.”
Mumsnet founder and CEO Justine Roberts said: “As our Mumsnet Voices Cost-of-Living Tracker repeatedly shows, the cost-of-living crisis is hitting families across the board, but it’s particularly shocking to know that the rising cost of milk formula means some parents are struggling to feed their babies.
“At Mumsnet we have repeatedly called for better infant feeding support for new mothers, but it is clear that we also need immediate practical action to support low-income families in these challenging times.
“The Government must act urgently to ensure that no parent has difficulty feeding their child this winter.”