The rising cost of formula milk is having a “devastating” effect on families and forcing them into “tough choices” to feed their babies, according to a report.
Some 65% of women surveyed for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) said they felt anxious or worried about the cost of formula, which has risen by 25% over the last two years.
The same percentage reported a negative impact on family finances as a result of the cost.
The cost of one box of the cheapest formula milk is now greater than the £8.50 a week value of the Healthy Start voucher families receiving qualifying benefits can claim.
Mamia First Infant Milk (900g, Aldi) – the cheapest infant formula on the market – has increased from £6.99 to £9.39, a 34% increase over two years, while SMA Little Steps First Infant Milk (800g, Tesco) has gone up from £8.25 to £9.75 – 18% over the same period.
Aptamil 1 First Milk (800g) has increased from £11.50 to £14.50, or 26% over two years.
Women surveyed for the report said they had cut back on food for the rest of the household, introduced cheaper cow’s milk into their baby’s diet prematurely and harmed their own physical and mental wellbeing by trying to breastfeed more when finding it intensely painful in an effort to cope with the rising costs.
Some 83% of those polled supported immediate interim measures to help with costs, such as allowing parents to collect and use supermarket loyalty points and vouchers when buying formula milk, which guidance aimed at preventing the marketing of formula currently prevents.
But BPAS said “bolder, longer-term solutions” were needed, such as a free or subsidised national infant milk, price caps, and a woman-centred infant feeding policy “that will go a long way to a fairer and more equitable approach to infant feeding”.
Some 99% of babies are fed formula milk, either entirely or partially, in the first six months of life, BPAS said.
The report follows recent findings by the Consumer and Markets Authority (CMA) that infant formula prices have increased 25% over two years.
Just two suppliers accounted for 85% of infant formula sales, the CMA said, and there was “very limited availability” of own-brand alternatives.
Aldi was the only supermarket to offer an own-brand alternative, meaning few parents had switched as prices have risen, the competition watchdog found.
BPAS chief executive Clare Murphy said: “Our report clearly shows the toll the current cost of formula is having on women and their families. For some women this was also compounded by a sense of guilt and shame around not breastfeeding. This must change.
“Supporting breastfeeding does not need to come at the, quite literal, expense of failing to tackle the issues of access to an affordable, consistent supply of formula milk, and we need some bold initiatives to achieve this.
“Infant feeding, whether by breast or bottle, is both a child health issue and a matter of reproductive choice. We must get this right.”
Mumsnet chief executive Justine Roberts said: “At Mumsnet, we hear frequently from parents who are struggling with the soaring cost of formula milk, and we know that many mums assume more expensive brands are better for their babies – despite their nutritional composition being strictly controlled.
“The current rules around marketing of formula – however well intentioned – mean that parents don’t have all the information or assistance they need.
“It’s clear that alongside immediate practical measures to support parents who are struggling financially with formula, we need better infant feeding support across the board for new mums. This report is an important contribution to improving that support.”
Censuswide surveyed 1,001 UK women in October who have formula-fed their baby aged under one in the last year.
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