The rocketing cost of baby formula is leading to “unsafe feeding practices” that leave infants in vulnerable families “at risk of malnutrition”, charities have warned. The cost of infant formula has soared over the past year as the cost of living crisis intensifies, with the cheapest brand increasing in price by 22%.
Healthy Start vouchers currently provide pregnant women in England, Wales and Northern Ireland with £8.50 a week to buy nutritious food. But the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) said the vouchers were no longer enough to keep up with rising prices and pay for the amount of formula needed to “safely feed” a baby within the first six months of its life.
The charity is among many now calling on the Government to increase the value of the Healthy Start vouchers from £8.50 to £10 a week. BPAS said the amount would “more realistically support families with formula dependent infants”.
Clare Murphy, chief executive of BPAS, said: "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.
"The government must increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers to protect the health of the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society."
The UK’s largest food bank networks currently have policies lodged that prevent them from redistributing formula donations. UNICEF said that handing out formula can be “a risky practice that can inadvertently cause harm”.
Michelle Herd, co-founder of baby bank AberNecessities based in Aberdeen, said there had been “an enormous increase” in referrals for parents struggling to feed their little ones due to the increased price of formula milk. She added: "Our fear is that without access to this basic essential, we will see babies in hospital, malnourished."