If you are currently having trouble obtaining your baby’s usual formula milk, here’s some useful information compiled in order to support decision making in an emergency. This is not to be seen as advisory but informational, during these unprecedented times.

Babies who have been partially or recently breastfed can be put back to the breast in most cases, or relactation can be commenced to reduce the risk to baby. Seek specialist support with this from the peer supporters and healthcare professionals suggested in our Breastfeeding Support infosheet.

If you are struggling to afford formula milk because of an unexpected cashflow problem, or because of higher prices where it IS available, you should contact your Health Visitor as the first port of call. Food banks don’t typically carry baby milk due to regulations, but may be able to help via your HV in exceptional circumstances.

If you are finding it problematic to source your baby’s usual milk in your local pharmacies and shops, it may help to know that that all formula fed babies up to 12 months can be fed on first stage infant milk, and these are usually fine to swap and change between when necessary.

“All infant formula on the UK market must meet compositional regulations, so all products are perfectly ok to feed a baby. More expensive brands still have to meet the same compositional standards as cheaper brands.”(First Steps Nutrition)

If your regular brand of formula is sold out, it’s perfectly ok to buy another brand; there’s no evidence to support that brand switching is harmful to babies. For any baby under 6 months, a stage 1 (from birth) formula of a different brand is SAFER than stage 2 or 3 of their normal brand.

If your baby has reacted negatively to a specific brand before, try another one. There are quite a few brands on the market, including supermarket own brands.

There’s also no evidence to support the use of Comfort, Anti-Colic or Hungry Baby versions of these formulas (these are classed as “foods for special medical purposes” and are not regulated the same as regular infant formula). If you’re used to feeding your baby one of these formulas, a Stage 1 milk should be suitable to use in an emergency. These milks should never be chosen for a baby that is already eating Stage 1 formula. These milks could make your baby unwell if not used appropriately. Please speak to your Health Visitor if you have concerns about this.

If local shops and supermarkets do not have supplies then you can ask your pharmacy to order formula – be aware this may take up to 2 days.  Note that this formula may be more expensive to buy this way.

Typical serving sizes suggested on the back of formula tins are often deliberately too big, so if you find that you’re ending up with a lot of waste from babies not finishing their bottles, try making smaller amounts, and feeding more often. Remember to pace feed. You can do this by sitting your baby upright during a feed, and holding the bottle at an almost horizontal angle so the milk only comes out when your baby sucks.  When baby looks sleepy, stops sucking or moves their head away, they are saying they have had enough.

Even when you are worried about having enough formula it is still important to make up feeds following the guidelines.  This will keep your baby safe.

It’s really important to not over dilute formula (e.g. making it with more water) or concentrate formula (e.g. make it with less water) as both of these options are harmful to your baby due to their required nutrient intake.

It’s also really important not to resort to home made formula. There are a few posts going round Facebook at the moment with recipes, but these are dangerous and will undoubtedly cause harm your baby.

If your baby is older than 6 months, and you’re already using a ‘Stage 2’ or ‘Follow On’ formula and cannot access this locally, then Stage 1 is perfectly fine to switch to. All babies under 12 months should have Stage 1 formula from 0-12 months, as per current guidelines. Growing Up milks are unsuitable for babies under 12 months and unnecessary for those over 12m, who can use standard whole cows’ milk (or goats’ milk or plant milks) as a drink alongside a balanced family diet.

Babies under 12 months cannot have cows’ milk or plant milks as a main drink to replace formula. Too much cows’ (or goats’) milk under 12 months can sometimes cause internal bleeding, and plant milks don’t contain the right nutrients or calories for infants. It’s fine to introduce cow’s milk or plant milks in food when introducing solids from 6 months.

Condensed milk or evaporated milk are also unsuitable as a formula alternative. 

It’s essential that you don’t re-heat or re-use partially consumed formula due to risk of bacterial infections. If a bottle of formula has been drunk from, the milk must be discarded within two hours.

Powdered formula should always be made up with fresh, 70° temperature water, in a sterilised bottle. Here are the guidelines (PDF download) from the World Health Organisation on how to safely prepare infant formula.

Here is a link to Public Health England leaflet (PDF Download) on How to Bottle Feed which contains lots of useful information on how to make and store formula:

Most importantly, if you do manage to find baby milk in the supermarket, please stick to the limit of two cartons per baby. Think about how it feels to worry about feeding your own baby, and know that others will also experience this fear if they arrive at an empty shelf. 

Donor breast milk is sometimes used in a crisis as stated by the World Health Organisation. Peer to peer milk sharing is not without risks. You can find out more information from www.hm4hb.org

For further evidence based information on infant milks, please check out First Steps Nutrition Trust.

For information on how to access specialist support, please see the Breastfeeding Infosheet.

– information compiled by Lancashire & South Cumbria Infant Feeding Network, 20th March 2020