Why are struggling parents having to rely on food banks for baby formula? | Letters

Sally Etheridge and Ellie Coteau say it’s difficult for charities to provide formula as the wrong type could put babies at risk

Infant formula milk is essential to the safety and survival of babies who are not breastfed (When parents are struggling to feed their babies, why don’t all food banks offer formula?, 13 December). Families who are struggling to afford it should not need to go to a food bank for formula, and food bank staff, who are almost all volunteers, should not have to take responsibility for ensuring that families can feed their baby. Families who need formula for their baby need it every day, week in week out, for up to a year.

Food banks can’t guarantee supplies, and their staff can’t be expected to understand which formula milks they should or shouldn’t stock. Giving the wrong milk can put babies at risk. Prescription-only milks can and do end up in food banks, and desperate families, including mothers who are breastfeeding well but are worried about their milk supply, as many do, will take what’s on offer.

The answer is a properly resourced response that offers trained support and ongoing supplies of formula milk to families who can’t afford it. Here in Leicester, the local authority and community organisations are working together to address the need in a sensitive and workable way. Food banks do a great job of reducing food insecurity, but they should not and cannot be expected to provide infant formula – babies are too important.
Sally Etheridge
Leicester Mammas

• Food banks are charities. We rely on donated goods and volunteer time, and as the Unicef guidelines point out, this means we are “unable to guarantee a timely or consistent supply of infant formula to meet the baby’s need”. Some food banks distribute vouchers to enable people to buy the formula that best suits their babies’ needs; others purchase appropriate formula on a case-by-case basis, or help families access formula and other ongoing support from partner agencies. Decisions like whether or not, and how, to offer infant formula are not straightforward and they are not taken lightly. Ultimately, each food bank is trying to do its best for the people it supports.

Of course, if there were better statutory provision in place, food banks would not have to make these difficult decisions. Perhaps a better question would be: “Why are parents having to turn to food banks to feed their babies – shouldn’t there be better statutory provision in place to support struggling parents?”
Ellie Coteau
Chief executive, The Welcome Centre, Huddersfield

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
High cost of childcare in UK makes low-income parents resort to food banks
Of those polled, 16% of parents with a household income of under £20,000 said they had used food banks as a result of childcare costs

Alexandra Topping

14, Sep, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
When parents are struggling to feed their babies, why don’t all food banks offer formula? | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
A resistance to making formula too easily available is patronising, shaming and dangerous, says Guardian columnist Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

13, Dec, 2022 @4:38 PM

Article image
‘Aggressive’ marketing of formula milk flouts code, warns WHO as it urges curbs
‘Misleading’ messages from $55bn-a-year industry are ‘unethical’, says report, which calls for plain packaging rules similar to tobacco

Lizzy Davies

22, Feb, 2022 @11:30 PM

Article image
Austerity works? We need to keep making noise about why it doesn't | Jack Monroe
Jack Monroe: Poverty in the UK is no cosy frugality – I have been there. This state is sending its children to school, to bed and to work hungry

Jack Monroe

10, Sep, 2013 @11:30 AM

Article image
Advocating for better breastfeeding support | Letter
Letters: Dr Tony Waterston says milk formula companies’ sponsorship of paediatric associations has a corrupting effect and hinders breastfeeding

20, Feb, 2023 @5:18 PM

Article image
High cost of infant formula putting babies in danger, UK charities warn
Vulnerable families resorting to watered down formula or unsuitable food such as porridge, say campaigners

Jamie Grierson

06, Dec, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
Why breast isn’t always best for every baby | Letter
Letter: We must end the stigma that surrounds bottle-feeding and accept that families should do what works for them, write Sue Haddon, Dr Ruth Ann Harpur and Catherine Roy of the Infant Feeding Alliance


17, Nov, 2020 @5:51 PM

Article image
Pneumonia and breastfeeding | Letter
Letter: Sally Etheridge of Lactation Consultants of Great Britain says that breastfeeding has a huge role to play in preventing the deaths of children in poor countries


24, Jan, 2019 @5:49 PM

Article image
Two tales from the frontline of austerity | Letters
Letters: Universal credit’s effect on food bank use may be greater than statistics suggest, says Jane Middleton, while an anonymous reader eligible for £1.26 a month of the benefit wonders how many others are in her situation


30, Apr, 2019 @4:37 PM

Article image
A new take on old masters | Brief letters
Brief letters: Working from home | Breastfeeding | Staycations | Guardian bookshop | Old mistress


05, Oct, 2020 @4:33 PM