February 3, 2023

Drink deep my dear

Charities are calling for more government support for struggling parents (Picture: Getty)

Parents are watering down infant formula and feeding their babies porridge because they can’t afford it, charities warn.

Prices have skyrocketed over the past year, with even the cheapest formula brand now 22% more expensive, analysis shows.

Currently, Healthy Start vouchers offer pregnant women and new mothers £8.50 a week to buy nutritious food.

But rising costs mean it no longer covers the amount of formula needed to safely feed a baby in the first six months of life, according to BPAS.

NHS guidelines recommend that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first year, but figures suggest that the majority of babies are partially or fully bottle-fed by the time they are six to eight weeks old.

The charity Feed said growing unaffordability puts babies at risk of malnutrition and serious illness.

Meanwhile, food banks are getting more and more referrals for formula milk, but they currently have policies in place to avoid handing it out.

UNICEF warns that ‘on the surface’ food banks ‘seem like a practical solution,’ doling out formula ‘could be a risky practice that could cause unintentional harm’.

Powdered milk for baby and blue spoon on light background close-up.  Milk powder for baby in a measuring spoon on a tin.  Milk powder with spoon for baby.  Baby milk formula and baby bottles.  Baby milk formula on kitchen background

Even the cheapest formula has increased in price by more than a fifth (Photo: Getty)

Charities are now calling on the government to increase the healthy start allowance to £10 a week for babies.

BPAS chief executive Clare Murphy said: ‘We know that families facing food poverty are resorting to unsafe feeding practices, such as extending the time between feedings and watering down formula.

“The government cannot stand by as babies are at risk of malnutrition and serious illness due to the crisis in the cost of living and the skyrocketing price of infant formula.

‘The government must increase the value of Healthy Start Checks to protect the health of the youngest and most vulnerable in our society.’

Michelle Herd, co-founder of baby bank AberNecessities, said: ‘Government should examine rising costs, particularly for vital products such as infant formula.

“Our fear is that without access to these basic necessities, we will see malnourished babies in the hospital.”

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