Vulnerable parents struggling with soaring costs are being forced to water down infant formula or give their baby cow’s milk, charities have warned.
The cost of formula has soared over the last year, with the price of the cheapest brand increasing by 22%, according to analysis by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS).
NHS Scotland guidance recommends that babies should consume only breast milk for around the first six months of their lives, however figures suggest that the majority of babies will be partially or fully formula fed by the time they are six to eight weeks old.
The NHS says cows’ milk should not be given to a baby under the age of one.
However, some charities have warned that families that were unable to afford enough infant formula had resorted to watering down the product or feeding their babies unsuitable food, such as porridge or cow’s milk.
Many parents have turned to food banks for support, however some are reluctant to hand out formula, after Unicef issued guideline in 2020 warning that “while on the surface” food banks “seem like a practical solution,” handing out formula “can be a risky practice that can inadvertently cause harm”.
The largest foodbank networks currently have policies in place which prevent their food banks from redistributing formula donations.
Michelle Herd, co-founder of baby bank AberNecessities, 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 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.”
BPAS chief executive Clare Murphy has called on the Scottish Government to provide more support to struggling families amid the cost of living crisis, which could see some babies “put at risk”.
“We know that families experiencing food poverty 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,” she said.
“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 Scottish Government announced earlier this year that they will remove the income thresholds for Best Start Foods so that around 30,000 additional people who receive tax credits or certain benefits will be able to receive Best Start Foods by the end of financial year 2023-24.
“However, this is not enough. The Scottish Government must increase the value of the Best Start Foods programme as a matter of urgency to protect the health of the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society.”