Bottle feeding a baby costs 10 a year, and that means 100 million for the baby milk manufacturers.
Despite very little change in the birth rate, the market is increasing, not because mothers are turning away from breast feeding, but due to the introduction of new types of infant feeds, like follow on formulas for older children and soya milk.
Now chemists are stocking a different type of baby feed available on prescription but you can buy it over the counter. Health professionals fear parents may start using it in the mistaken belief they are giving their baby the best.
Regular monitoring by health visitors over the past 50 years has helped reduce infant mortality, but frequent weighing puts pressure on mothers to have bonny bouncy babies and parents still worry if their child seems small.
Chemists now sell high energy feeds which were designed for chronically sick babies.
Dr Margaret Lawson, of the Institute of Child Health, told Healthcheck that, if healthy babies drank a lot of this type of formula, then they could become very overweight. Babies regulate their intake according to the amount of calories there is in their feed. A baby who was very good at regulating its intake could end up not taking in sufficient fluid, and become dehydrated and distressed.
Infatrini has been available since March this year.
In adverts in the Health Visitor’s Journal (where you had also a chance to see ads for car sales in the Philippines), it says: “Infatrini has been specifically formulated to meet the nutritional needs of infants with failure to thrive.”
Mary Daly, of the Health Visitors Association, thinks the ad is misleading.
She says: ” In fact, failure to thrive isn’t a disease – it’s a generic term that covers a whole range of quite minor feeding problems as well as some major ones.”
Dr Tony Williams, a neo natal consultant, told Healthcheck that to market a product as suitable for the treatment for failure to thrive is not entirely responsible. He says: “Some infants who fail to thrive, fail to thrive as the result of underlying disease and it’s therefore important that those infants are seen by a doctor before one embarks on treatment.”
Health professionals are also concerned about the marketing of another specialist infant formula – Nutramigen.
It claims to “stop dietary-related infant colic in 48 hours….crying time greatly reduced in infants fed on Nutramigen.” Promotional tear off slips are also included for health visitors to give to parents.
Patti Rundall, of Baby Milk Action, says: “They are talking about crying time being greatly reduced with the use of Neutramigen. This is absolutely crazy because every baby cries.”
Unlike high energy formulas, there is no risk to a healthy baby from Nutramigen. But, if given without medical supervision, it may prevent the diagnosis of an underlying problem for which a colic like reaction is merely a symptom.
Dr Margaret Lawson, of the Institute of Child Health, told us that, if there are medical indications for a baby to receive the special formula, then it should be on prescription from their GP. She says: “Parents shouldn’t just be encouraged to go along to a pharmacist and buy this product off the shelf.”
Since the Government recommended that infants should not be fed unmodified cow’s milk before they are a year old, there has been a 100% increase in the sales of follow on milks. These encourage the use of formula for up to 2 years.
Mead and Johnson, manufacturer of Nutramigen, told us that it only ever advertises its products to health professionals.
Nutricia, who make Infatrini, told Healthcheck that it should only be used under medical supervision which is made clear on the product labels and literature. The company has only advertised to health professionals and has no plans to advertise it directly to parents.