With formula milk prices increasing, many parents are resorting to extreme measures to make sure they can feed their child. Some retailers have even started putting baby formula milk behind the counter to deter theft.
Unfortunately, a lack of support, increased costs, tough guidelines, and unclear marketing all contribute to parents spending more than necessary on formula milk or being left with no way of accessing help.
We explain why prices are increasing, reveal how you can save money on baby formula and what you should never do to cut costs.
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Why are costs of formula milk increasing?
With rising inflation, we’re seeing prices increase across the board and formula milk is no exception. With costs of production, storing and transport going up, parents have to pay far more for what is, for many, a staple product.
Since we last compared the average price of baby formula milk powders from supermarket and high street retailers, we’ve seen a further 4.4% increase (49p) in the average cost, with every single brand having gone up. Since October 2021, this makes it a total increase of 11.3%.
Why are retailers not offering discounts or promotions?
UK laws follow World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines introduced in 1981, that prohibit retailers from including first infant formula (formula that babies can drink from birth) in any in-store or online promotions. This was initially in a bid to promote breastfeeding and hold formula companies accountable.
Parents aren’t able to use Boots points, Sainsbury’s Nectar Points or Tesco Clubcard to help reduce the costs either. All three stores say they are following legislation and guidelines relating to baby formula milk.
Is there any support available?
While there’s the Healthy Start programme, which was introduced across the UK in 2006, to provide a nutritional safety-net for low-income mothers and families – at £8.50 a week, the vouchers don’t cover the cost of even the cheapest formula on the market.
Food banks are also hesitant to stock baby formula because they are adhering to the UNICEF guidelines which believe giving out formula can inadvertently cause harm if they are given the wrong type of formula. Many food banks are, however, pushing for changes in guidelines.
Do you really need to spend more on branded or specialist formula milk?
No. The composition of all infant formula and follow-on formula in the UK is strictly controlled under The Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula (England) regulations. This means the core ingredients of all formulas are identical, so no one formula is better than the other.
Your child may prefer the taste of particular brands but they won’t be missing out on essential nutrients if you swap to a cheaper own brand alternative.
See our guide on the best formula milk brands to find out how each brand compares
Is follow-on formula necessary?
No. NHS advice is that follow-on formula isn’t necessary. You can continue to use baby formula if not breastfeeding or using expressed breast milk to feed your baby.
Beyond one year, formula isn’t needed and you can give whole cows’ milk as a main drink, so long as it’s pasteurised. This is considerably more cost-effective than follow-on milk. If you think your baby is allergic to cow’s milk, talk to your GP who can advise on alternatives.
We compare cows milk with toddler milk and reveal how much money you can save by switching
Cheapest place to buy branded baby formula
Feeding your baby formula milk is always going to be more expensive than breast milk. Not only is there the price of the milk itself but there’s also the equipment to consider.
We’ve tracked the prices of the leading baby formula milk brands to find out, on average, where they are the cheapest and most expensive. We’ve also tracked how much of a percentage increase in price these have had over the same 12 month period since we last analysed the average prices in October 2022.
*Prices from 28 February 2022 to 28 February 2023. Retailers include Amazon, Asda, Boots, Morrisons, Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Superdrug, Tesco and Waitrose.
The cheapest baby formula milk is from Kendamil, which has an average cost across retailers of £1.19 per 100g. On average, Asda is the cheapest place to buy Kendamil baby formula.
For most baby formula milk powders, Asda and Morrisons tend to have the best price.
The most expensive baby formula milk is from Aptamil, with an average price of £12.90 (£1.61 per 100g) across retailers. Aptamil’s baby formula has also seen the largest price increase in our time period, going up on average across retailers by 5.7%.
Across the board, Waitrose is the most expensive retailer to buy formula milk from.
3 things you should never do to save money on formula
- Keep unused bottle feeds for too long. Babies tend to feed little and often, resulting in them not always finishing their bottle. Unused baby formula that has been kept at room temperature must be thrown away within 2 hours. However, if you store the leftovers in a fridge, you can use it within 24 hours.
- Water down feeds. Don’t be tempted to water down feeds to make it last longer or feed your baby water in addition to milk as this can be dangerous. Adding extra water to formula reduces the amount of nutrients your baby will receive, which can slow growth and development. Always make up your formula as instructed by the manufacturer.
- Skip feeds. Your baby will show signs of being hungry (moving their head from side to side, placing their hands in their mouths, sticking out their tongues, etc.). Newborns shouldn’t go more than about 4-5 hours without feeding. Underfeeding them can cause dehydration and delay healthy growth. As they get older, they’ll likely have longer stretches between feedings.
How to buy the best baby bottle, steriliser, warmer and other feeding essentials – our pick of the top products to make feeding your baby easier, along with important safety advice