A (not so) little rant about infant formula


I’m typing this with a small person asleep on my chest, so apologies if there are any typos. I realised recently that I’d been ranting non-stop IRL to people about infant formula. Baby milk. Whatever you want to call it. So I thought I should rant about it on here instead.

Anyway, it wasn’t something I thought much about before having a baby, obviously. I assumed I’d exclusively breastfeed – free, convenient and good for both of us! But then all sorts of unexpected things occurred, of which I’ll write more another day. And so I found myself in the unfamiliar baby aisle in Sainsbury’s, searching for something to feed my poor tiny daughter, who was so underweight when she was born.

First off, I was surprised to see that a 1 litre bottle of Cow & Gate ready-mixed formula cost £2.90. Everywhere. I went online but every single stockist sells it at the same price. Curious, I thought.

I was also surprised to see that you’re only allowed to buy two bottles/cartons of formula at any one time (oh hello rationing! thought we left you behind in the 1950s). Also curious.

Furthermore, I was slightly horrified to see that on the packaging, it reminded me (in a manner not dissimilar to the warnings on a cigarette packet) that BREASTMILK WAS BETTER FOR MY BABY.


I am aware that breastmilk is (marginally) better for my baby. I do not need a carton making me feel (even more) guilty about it every single time I pour my daughter something to eat.

I did some digging into these curiosities and discovered there’s an actual LAW about formula milk. Ostensibly to prevent those evil formula companies from encouraging you to formula feed over breastfeeding. However, to my mind it seems more likely that it’s a money saving scheme for the government – they don’t want to encourage those on benefits to use formula. Whatever their reasoning, it’s certainly not in the best interests of parents.

If you’re interested, the formula legislation basically says: a) you can’t ever advertise infant formula (the ads you see on telly are for follow-on milk, which is for older babies and is OK, but note how they still mention that BREASTMILK IS BETTER); b) and on that note, it’s a legal requirement that formula companies explain on the bottles that BREASTMILK IS BETTER; c) stores can never discount formula (basically it is price fixed), include it in ‘buy one get one free’ promotions or suchlike; and d) formula is not eligible for points on store loyalty cards.

Better still, in the legislation it says on the packaging you can’t put:

• Pictures of infants, young children or carers (e.g. mothers or fathers). • Graphics that represent nursing mothers and pregnant women. • Pictures or text which imply that infant health, happiness or well being, or the health, happiness and wellbeing of carers, is associated with infant formula. • References to infant’s or carer’s emotions. • Baby or child related subjects (e.g. toys, cots or young animals) and anthropomorphic characters, pictures and logos.

The pathetic patronising pettiness (sidenote: angry alliteration FTW) of this makes me want to scream.

Basically the government wants to make it as difficult and unpleasant as possible for you to use infant formula. How fucked up is that?

I hate this legislation. I think it’s dreadful and evil and unfair and makes poor mothers desperate to feed their children feel awful every time they open a bottle or a carton.

Infant formula was invented years ago to save the lives of babies whose mothers, for whatever reason, could not nourish them sufficiently with their breastmilk. It is a lifesaver, literally. Why is it being treated like a poison?

There are now some people making noises about putting formula milk on prescription. Few things have made me angrier than hearing this. What do they expect parents to do – wait till their babies are half starved to death before taking them, sick, to their doctor for them to ‘allow’ them to use an alternative feeding method?

Since having my daughter, I have been asked repeatedly by healthcare professionals about the state of my ’emotional wellbeing’. At every occasion I have wanted to say that my emotional wellbeing is fine, except for the cruel reminder every time I buy formula that I wasn’t able to breastfeed and that if I had I would have been doing BETTER for my baby.

New motherhood is hard enough without being made to feel terrible every time you feed your baby. Plenty of women who want to breastfeed can’t. They are not lazy or selfish. They are usually upset about it and emotionally vulnerable. This kind of propaganda is akin to mental torture.


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  • Reply
    Clare McHarg
    October 19, 2015 at 12:21 pm

    Char, this is *exactly* what I was going through 18 months ago. I only breastfed for 10 days due to my milk never coming in. The HV actually said if Seb had lost anymore weight, that we would have to return to hospital. So at 1am on that awful day I sent my husband to 24 hour ASDA while I sat with my new born in bed sobbing. A week later, when we were out of the danger zone I ventured in to my local town centre ON MY OWN for the first time. Having had a c-section, the driving/pushing of pram had already nearly broke me, but I strode (or rather shuffled) in to Boots to pick up some formula as I’d been emailed about their baby event. I figured if I was going to have to buy formula, I might as well get a kick back for it. So I struggled around the shop with my two cartons of formula and took them to the till. When I handed over my Boots card to collect my points, I was told that the formula didn’t qualify. When I asked why, the rather horrid sales assistant told me that ‘breast is best’ and the government don’t want mothers switching to formula so they can earn loyalty points. Yes. Because that’s on every new-mothers mind.
    Anyway, to cut a long story short, I ended up sobbing in Boots, at the till, like an idiot.
    I total agree with you. Who cares how we feed our children as long as they are healthy and we are making the correct choices for them! And to feel judged at such a delicate time is the worst. As if we don’t judge ourselves enough already.
    My boy has just turned 19 months and is the tallest and strongest of all his friends. He is super smart and gorgeous to boot. Not to mention, I know some pretty stupid people who were breastfed as kids. So, clearly it doesn’t make that much of a difference. X

    • Charlotte Duckworth
      Charlotte Duckworth
      October 19, 2015 at 3:06 pm

      Oh bless you Clare! I can totally identify with the crying in Boots thing. I mean honestly, as if you would choose to buy formula just to get loyalty points! x

  • Reply
    October 19, 2015 at 2:20 pm

    Ooof, I see where you’re coming from. I too had to go down the formula route because my girl was in NICU for a month and wasn’t allowed milk, so I stopped producing. But, I think I can help explain some of the things that have wound you up and hopefully make you feel a bit better.
    So, the reason for the legislation is because the govt is trying to protect what goes into the formula – the ingredient lists are very specific, and there’s not much at all between the brands. The need to promote breastfeeding is because the actual %age of mothers who choose to do it is very very low in the UK, and I think in the past, before it was controlled by law, companies could say “formula is better” and make mums who chose to breastfeed feel bad about it. Also, the restrictions on pricing, advertising etc are actually to protect mums – fair standard pricing. The reason so many shops restrict you to 2 bottles/tubs is to allow enough to go around. Where I live in London, there’s always a massive shortage because people buy carloads and export to China. Why China? Because there is no law there to protect what goes into formula, and babies die from toxic formula. So, yah, I felt less ranty about ut when I found that out!
    Hope this helps a bit. I felt similarly about it too, which is why I looked into it a bit more. It’s tough, this being a mum lark – pretty much feel sh*t whatever decision you take! x

    • Charlotte Duckworth
      Charlotte Duckworth
      October 19, 2015 at 3:13 pm

      Thanks… I do respect a lot of what you’ve said, but I can’t help feeling there’s no justification for not allowing loyalty points or discounts on formula other than thinking you don’t want to ‘reward’ mothers for choosing to formula feed. Which is why it feels like a judgemental punishment… As for only being able to buy two bottles at once, for us it has the opposite effect as I have now started stockpiling them! The two bottle thing doesn’t seem to work because my local store is always out of stock. So my OH and I buy formula every single time we go anywhere near a shop, and often visit more than one store to get more than two bottles, thus meaning we are buying more than we need at any one time (as we are so scared of not being able to get any!) and increasing the likelihood of shops running out, which seems to defeat the purpose… vicious circle! I did read about the China thing too, I hope that is the real reason but I can’t help feeling more than a little cynical about it all… maybe it’s the hormones! 😉 x

    • Charlotte Duckworth
      Charlotte Duckworth
      October 19, 2015 at 3:17 pm

      I also think £2.90 for one litre is extortionately expensive… if they want to price fix to protect mothers they should price fix it cheaper! 🙂

  • Reply
    Fiona Moss
    October 19, 2015 at 6:30 pm

    This is one of the best things I’ve read on this topic. my little girl is 23 months and when she was born she point blankly refused to latch on to breast feed sleep deprived and with no clue having never done this before I followed my hospitals hard line we promote breast feeding here. Rssulty back in two days later on the children’s ward under weight baby becoming jaundice taken for a lumber puncture put on a drip incase if infection and given a feeding tube. I was told to pump and was told they were going to give her formula and what kind would I like. Had no clue so asked for advice on the formula she had to have and got told ‘no we can’t advise we promote breast feeding here’ yes make the woman on the edge of her sanity feel worse why don’t you. so cue feeding every three hours then pumping for about an hour to get a combined boob total of 20ml no wonder she was hungry. However she like me before her survived our time on the demon bottle and seem no worse off for it.Yes I agree breast feeding would have been faster easier and most certainly cheaper but the health and wellbeing of my daughter comes first and frankly if I could have breastfed and it had been a choice between that and a tenners worth of nectar points (other points are available) I’d have kept the tenner and fed her myself.

    • Charlotte Duckworth
      Charlotte Duckworth
      October 19, 2015 at 6:44 pm

      This is so upsetting to read and I’m so sorry for you. It’s disgraceful how new mothers are treated. Glad you are both happy and healthy now x

  • Reply
    October 20, 2015 at 4:33 am

    I totally agree with Shivani’s comment about the reasons for restrictions on baby formula and why the legislation is in place. Im not sure if you remember but there was a massive scandal in the 80s regarding nestle and the pushing of baby formula as a replacement in third world countries. I think a lot of the government stance stems from this and a desire to prevent inappropriate marketing and incentive campaigns. If you actually look at the statistics of BF mums in the UK it is really low. Only 17% of babies are exclusively BF at 3 months, fundamentally when compared to peers the UK is failing miserably. The BF rate for low income groups is even lower. So to a certain extent you can see the theory behind the guidelines, even if it comes across as being arbitrary and enforced. For the sake of transparency I should declare at this point that I do BF my 8 month old, however im not about to go on an anti formula rant. I have enough friends who for whatever reason were unable to BF and have struggled with the formula issues and the associated perceived stigmatism and being a mum is hard enough as it is, without feeling vilified.

    I did want to add one thing though. I am british but currently live in Singapore. If you think formula is expensive in the uk, try living over here. Premade and mixed formula milk is not allowed over here only powder is available. Cans of formula can retail for anything up to 100 dollars…that equates to £50, in that context £2.90 doesnt seem too bad.

    • Charlotte Duckworth
      Charlotte Duckworth
      October 20, 2015 at 10:00 am

      It seems so ridiculous to me that they don’t allow readymade formula when it’s so much safer for babies! Also ridiculous that it’s so expensive. I do feel society is very hard on mums.

  • Reply
    March 4, 2016 at 1:59 am

    The law on infant formula is to protect formula fed babies as well as promoting breastfeeding as some people may swap brands depending what is on offer which could make the child sick. The manufacturers have to put about breastfeeding being best on the packaging as a legal requirement not cos they want to. Half of the cost of formula is advertising and follow on & toddler milk were created specifically to get around the law. Giving someone loyalty points is promoting formula, therefore not allowed.

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