Infant Nutrition Q&A

Infant Nutrition Q&A

Below is a selection of Q&As concerning infant nutrition.  
If your question isn't answered here, please contact us.

Why is breastmilk best for babies?

Breastmilk gives babies the best start in life and provides many benefits. It contains all of the nutrients babies need for the first few months of life and also provides immunological advantages which may reduce the incidence of illness.  Studies have shown that breastfeeding offers protection against gastrointestinal and respiratory infection and reduces the risk of allergy.1

These benefits may also extend into later childhood. In the longer-term breastfeeding has been associated with lower incidence of obesity, lower cholesterol and blood pressure and higher performance on intelligence tests2 but these benefits have not been consistently demonstrated in all studies.

The maternal benefits of breastfeeding include a lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer and lower risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease;3 this is due to a ‘re-set’ in maternal metabolism.  

Breastmilk is hygienic, convenient, the correct temperature, readily available and free.

What are the breastfeeding rates in the UK?

As of July 2016 the breastfeeding prevalence at 6-8 weeks after birth in England is as follows:

  • Infants exclusively breastfed: 29.3%
  • Infant partially breastfed: 14.4%
  • Infants not at all breastfed: 44.3%

As of March 2015 the breastfeeding prevalence at 6 weeks after birth in Scotland was as follows:

  • Infants exclusively breastfed: 26.6%
  • Infants mixed breast and formula fed: 36.7%

Are women legally allowed to breastfeed in public?

Women were given the legal right to breastfeed in public following the introduction of the 2010 Equality Act. It is now an act of sexual discrimination to treat a woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding in public.

Should women continue to eat a normal, healthy diet during pregnancy?

The majority of women can continue to eat a normal, healthy diet during pregnancy. The NHS Choices website provides information for pregnant women on healthy eating during pregnancy alongside information on the vitamins and minerals that are especially important during this time. This includes recommendations on vitamin D and folic acid supplements. 

Why is infant formula the only suitable alternative to breastmilk?

For those parents who cannot, or choose not to, breastfeed, infant formula is recognised as the only safe alternative for babies.  Infant formula has been specifically developed to contain all the necessary ingredients needed to meet an infant's nutritional requirements.  The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognises that infant formula has a legitimate role to play in feeding infants up to six months of age. All formula milks are safe, rigorously monitored and tightly regulated.

What is the correct way to prepare infant formula?

Infant milk formula needs to be prepared fresh, exactly in accordance to the manufacturer's instructions, and used within the time limit stated by the manufacturer on the packaging. Before making up infant formula, all bottles and teats must be cleaned and sterilised, and the preparer must wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water.  

Formula feeds should be made up each time as required, using water that has boiled and been left to cool for no more than 30 minutes, so that it remains at a temperature of 70 degrees Celsius or above.

Formula milk powder is not sterile, so occasionally it could possibly contain harmful bacteria which could make babies ill. A temperature of 70 degrees Celsius will kill any harmful bacteria and will not affect any of the nutrients in the powder, although in some cases the powder will not dissolve completely. 

Ordinary tap water is best, taken fresh from the cold tap, but if this is not available some types of still bottled water are suitable such as those with low mineral contents. If the label says the sodium content is less than 200mg per litre, and the fluoride content is less than 1.5mg per litre, the water is safe for your baby.   Most bottled waters are well below 200mg sodium per litre, but it is best to check the label. Most types of artificially softened water are not suitable for babies. If there are any doubts it is best to check with the manufacturer or a healthcare professional before using.

Ready-to-feed liquid formula, sold in bottles or cartons, is sterile and does not need to be mixed, but it is more expensive to buy than formula powder.

A booklet on preparing infant formula, written by the Department of Health's Start4Life initiative, is available at:  Start4Life Guide to Bottlefeeding.

*Some formula milks, especially specialist formula milks for infants, may require alternative preparation. Please always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

How do manufacturers ensure the safety and quality of baby milks?

The manufacturers of infant milks and foods in Europe are amongst the most highly regulated in the world. This ensures that products meet the highest quality standards – above those required for all other types of food.

The raw materials used in the manufacture of baby milks and the final product itself must meet very strict specifications and high standards.

The manufacturing process involves heat treatment which ensures the microbiological safety of the product. Quality control procedures are very strict and stringent standards of hygiene are in force throughout. Levels of contaminants are kept to an absolute minimum complying with national and/or international recommendations. By law, pesticide residues must be below 1 part per billion and are usually either absent or at levels so low they cannot be detected. Rigorous tests for shelf-life, microbiological safety, nutrient levels and suspected contaminants are also carried out.

Does infant formula feeding result in obesity in later life?

There is no conclusive evidence to support a relationship between obesity and formula feeding. Obesity is a multi-dimensional condition that is affected by many factors. The findings of the many studies carried out over the last two decades are not consistent. 

Some studies show a small protective effect of breastfeeding against childhood obesity, but the evidence is inconclusive. Studies showing an effect of breastfeeding against overweight and/or obesity also show that the effect is reduced when other factors such as maternal obesity and socio-economic status are considered. Many studies factored out some of the possible confounding factors, but none factored out all of them.

Infant formula manufacturers must comply with stringent national legislation when formulating and marketing their products. Should scientific evidence become available to show a clear link between formula and obesity, manufacturers will modify their products in accordance with any recommendations made by scientific and government authorities.

When should soya infant formulae be used?

Soya infant formulae should only be used on the advice of a GP or other health professional.

The Department of Health advises that soya infant formulae should not be used as the first choice of formula before six months, but recognises that there may be circumstances where they may be needed, for example in older infants who are refusing hypoallergenic formula. About 10-14% of children with cow’s milk allergy (CMA) are also allergic to soya; this may be higher in non-IgE mediated CMA. In addition, soya formulae may be used for infants of vegetarian parents who are not breastfeeding or infants who find the alternatives unacceptable.

What is the difference between cow’s milk-based formula and goat milk-based formula?

The opinion of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2014 on the essential composition of infant and follow-on formula recognised that cow’s milk, goat’s milk and soy protein were suitable protein sources for infant formula and follow-on formula.4 The proteins in formulae based on cow’s milk are whey dominant, rather than casein dominant. Goat milk formula can be casein dominant since casein dominant goat milk formula has the same outcomes of safety and nutritional adequacy as whey dominant cow’s milk formula.5


What's the best way to avoid dental health problems when feeding?

In rare incidences, cases of dental caries have arisen from prolonged ad lib breastfeeding and inappropriate bottle feeding. This is because both breastmilk and infant formulae contain sugars, either in the form of lactose, or in the case of soya infant formulae, glucose syrups.

Any sugar-containing fluid has the potential to cause dental health problems but some protection against dental caries is provided by the calcium and phosphorus content of infant formulae as well as from the fluoride in the water used to make up the feed. Duration and frequency of feeding are important factors in reducing the risk of dental caries; current advice is that babies should never be left alone with a bottle and should be encouraged to drink from a beaker or cup as soon as they are ready to make the change. Bottles should never be used as comforters.

Companies include reminders on packs about safe bottle feeding but if concerned, parents should also seek health professional or dental advice.

Are there specialised formulae for infants?

There is a range of specialist milk formulae available to meet the nutritional requirements of pre-term babies, babies with high energy requirements, and those infants affected by allergies, metabolic and some other conditions.

Parents or carers are advised to seek advice from their GP, midwife or health visitor before using these specialist products.

Is there a need for follow-on formula?

Follow-on formula has been developed to meet the nutritional needs of infants from six months old as part of a mixed weaning diet. The composition of follow-on milk is similar to that of infant formula except for two nutrients – iron and vitamin D, which are important nutrients that growing babies need when they move onto solid foods. Iron contributes to normal cognitive development of children whilst calcium and vitamin D are needed for normal growth and development of bone in children.

Cow’s milk is not recommended as a drink for babies under one year old because it contains too much protein and sodium for a baby’s metabolism, and not enough iron and vitamins, including vitamin D.

Are manufacturers of infant milks and foods allowed to advertise?

Direct advertising to consumers of breastmilk substitutes (i.e. infant formula) for infants under 6 months of age is prohibited.  This includes media such as TV, radio, newspapers, antenatal and baby magazines.

The advertisement of follow-on formula is permitted under strict conditions: it must comply with labelling guidance including the font size of the term ‘follow-on’; provide clear age indications; and have a colour scheme clearly differentiated from infant formula. Unlike infant formula, the advertisement of follow-on formula is permitted because follow-on formula is not a breastmilk substitute and is used for infants over six months of age as part of a mixed weaning diet.  The same advertising and labelling regulation applies to milk-based drinks and weaning foods for children under 3 years old. 

The provision of information on infant formula to health professionals in scientific publications is permitted so long as it is 'scientific and factual'. This is because it is important to keep health professionals informed about new product developments in order for them to be able to provide informed and balanced advice to parents. Trade advertising is also permitted, in order to keep pharmacists and retailers informed of the latest product developments and prices.

Are infant food manufacturers allowed to communicate with health professionals?

Yes, although companies adhere to very strict rules when engaging with healthcare professionals to ensure that there is no link between support provided to these professionals and the sale of formula. Manufacturers typically provide healthcare professionals with nutritional composition data about their products.

All companies emphasise above all else that breastfeeding is the best way to feed a baby.

Why does the industry provide information resources for parents, can't they get this information elsewhere?

Parents can't always access the balanced information that they want when it comes to infant feeding. 

Thousands of parents contact our member companies’ helplines and online forums every month, requesting information and guidance. However, any information provided to parents via e.g. carelines, websites or mother and baby clubs, is factual only.

Manufacturers take the trust that parents have in their brands and products very seriously and adhere to the strict regulations regarding advertising and the provision of educational material.

Does industry use free samples to promote products?

Companies do not provide free or low priced samples of infant formula to the general public, pregnant women, mothers or members of their families; this activity is prevented under European law. Companies do not provide samples of infant formula or any other promotional gifts either directly, or indirectly, via the healthcare system.

Even though EU law allows the companies to provide healthcare professionals with product samples for the purpose of evaluation, this is only done on a very limited basis (for example on new product launches); these cannot be given to parents.

Do infant nutrition manufacturers make misleading health claims?

No. The infant nutrition industry is a science based, responsible and highly regulated industry that only makes supported and authorised health claims on labelling and advertising. Only a limited number of nutrition claims and one health claim are permitted to be made on infant formulae. 

Any nutrition and health claim is strictly controlled by EU legislation [Regulation (EC) No. 1924/2006; EC Directive 2006/141/EC] and must be approved by EFSA or its predecessors, the Scientific Committee for Food (SCF). Enforcement is carried out by Trading Standards. All claims made by formula milk companies are fully substantiated; nothing is published that is not fully supported by evidence.

Under the new Commission delegated Regulation (EU) 2016/127 (applicable after 22 February 2020) nutrition and health claims on infant formula will no longer be allowed.

Why does the industry work with academics? How can the research be independent?

Working in collaboration with respected academics and leading experts is standard practice across all sectors of industry; and as infant nutrition is a science based sector, collaboration is especially encouraged. Collaboration ensures that the latest scientific research and techniques are at the forefront of all product development, which is particularly important as the products are developed for babies and toddlers.

Much of the present knowledge of the benefits of breastmilk is a direct result of research undertaken by experts and supported by industry. The results of the research are used to further our knowledge of infant nutrition and, in turn, to develop new products and improve existing products for the benefit of babies who are not fed with breastmilk.

Are homemade foods and drinks more nutritious than shop bought foods for infants and young children?

Not necessarily, it depends on the quality and nutritional value of the homemade food.  Manufactured weaning foods are specially developed to provide the nutrients a baby requires in appropriate amounts. A recent study which looked at the nutritional content and food variety of commercial meals for children available in the UK, compared to home-cooked recipes, found that the majority of commercial meals provided an energy-dense meal with greater vegetable variety. In comparison, whilst home-cooked recipes were the cheaper option, the majority exceeded recommendations for energy and fats.

Babies should start to eat with the rest of the family at mealtimes whenever possible, as social interaction is essential for development. Family foods tend to be too high in salt and sugar for infants and young children, however meals made without added salt and sugar, and processed to the right texture, are often suitable for babies.

Babies need moderate amounts of sugar in their diet as a readily digestible energy source. Sugars are naturally present in fruits and vegetables.  Contrary to popular opinion, very little sugar is used in commercial baby foods and there are legal controls on the total amount of carbohydrate (including sugars) that they may contain. Manufactured baby foods are also strictly controlled to ensure that salt levels are kept to a minimum.

Vitamins and minerals may be added to commercial baby foods to ensure an adequate nutritional intake or to restore losses that may occur during processing. Many shop bought foods contain added iron. All ingredients are clearly shown on the label.

What benefits do commercial baby foods offer?

Commercial baby foods are nutritionally balanced, comply with strict compositional criteria, including pesticide controls, meet high standards of quality and safety, contain no artificial additives, minimal added salt and provide appropriate textures to help the transition to family foods.

Baby foods also offer many other advantages including the fact that some recipes can be suitable for special diets (e.g. gluten-free, egg-free, milk-free, vegetarian, halal). 

Complementary foods are designed to be specially appropriate for infants and young children and are convenient for parents and carers; they are available in a range of portion sizes, facilitating easy preparation of small quantities; there is no need for any special kitchen equipment; a wide range of foods is available; they are quick and easy to prepare and do not require any cooking; and there is little or no wastage involved.  Commercial baby foods may be especially convenient when away from home such as on day trips, holidays, and when a child is left with relatives or other carers.

How safe are commercial baby foods?

Commercial baby foods are very safe. They are manufactured to very high standards and all ingredients must meet very strict food safety and quality specifications. The safety and quality of complementary food ingredients, are of a high standard; the ingredients have to be produced at a chosen farm in suitable soil away from contaminants and under strict guidelines that ensure pesticides, pollution and nitrates are kept to a minimum.

Legislation bans the use of some pesticides and requires a very low residue limit of 0.01mg/kg for all other pesticides. This is set on the basis of the precautionary principle. More severe limitations are set for a small number of pesticides or metabolites of pesticides.

Additionally, and by law, artificial additives including colourings and intense sweeteners are not permitted in baby foods. There are strict limits on all other additives, restricting the range and levels of additives. Both safety and technological need are determining factors which govern the use of any additives. If an additive is not necessary for technological reasons, even if it is proven to be safe, then it is not used.

All manufacturing is carefully controlled and undergoes extensive quality control. Thorough heat treatment combined with strict hygiene standards ensures that all products are microbiologically safe. Production and packaging processes are carefully selected to ensure that the products are safe for infants and young children.

All stages of production are monitored from inspection of suppliers’ premises and testing of raw materials, through to manufacturing and packaging. The packaging is very important to protect the product from contamination and to keep it in the best possible condition throughout its shelf-life.

Do baby foods and drinks contain added salt and sugar?

Sodium in foods either comes from ingredients which naturally contain sodium or salt. The level of sodium in baby foods is carefully controlled and, if present at all, salt is always kept to a minimum.

Salt (in the form of sodium chloride) is not added or used as a flavouring for baby foods. If salt is present at all in baby foods, it is generally because some ingredients may contain salt for technological purposes, such as cheese, yeast extract and ham.

Sodium is an essential nutrient, but high sodium intakes in babies should be avoided since an infant's immature kidneys cannot process high levels. Infants should receive all the sodium they require from foods that naturally contain sodium, without the need for added salt.

Very little added sugar is used in commercial baby foods: in fact there are legal controls on the total amount of carbohydrate (including sugars) that baby foods may contain.

Sugars are naturally present in fruit and vegetables and therefore found in the purées and juices made from these ingredients.  Carbohydrates and sugars from fruit and vegetables will be present whether the food is home-made or commercially prepared.

It is important to recognise that infants and young children do need moderate amounts of sugars and carbohydrates in their diet as sugars are a readily digestible energy source. Breastmilk itself contains sugars in the form of lactose.  

The main reason for limiting sugar consumption is for dental health and to help establish long-term healthy food preferences through to adulthood.

What are modified starches and maltodextrins, and what is their role in baby foods?

Starches are the main storage carbohydrates of seeds and roots and are naturally present in foods such as potatoes, cereals, rice and flour. They are used in commercial baby foods, just as flour or cornflour are used in the home, to achieve the right texture and consistency. This is very important for babies because food needs to be sucked from a spoon without being too runny or too solid.  Starches also have the advantage of providing energy in the form of easily digestible carbohydrate without too much fibre.

Modified starches are food starches which have been modified to increase their tolerance to processing and stability in storage. (They have nothing to do with genetic modification.) They are safe, digestible food ingredients which may be used at low levels as a stabiliser in some baby foods in jars. Strict legislation dictates which modified starches may be added to baby foods, and then only if they are required for technological reasons.

Without modified starches, some baby foods would separate on processing and storage. This would not only look unattractive but adversely affect the consistency, and potentially the digestibility, of the product. Shaking, stirring and mixing would not always re-suspend the mixture effectively. By using modified starches to provide a uniform suspension during processing and storage, an even distribution of calories and nutrients is maintained.

Modified starches may also be used in some products to reduce the intensity of some fruit flavours or reduce their astringency or when other starches or stabilisers are not suitable.

Maltodextrins have a long and safe history of use in foods. They are usually made from corn starch and consist of a mixture of medium and long chain carbohydrates with a small proportion (typically less than 10%) of maltose and glucose.

Maltodextrins have a number of advantages: they are efficiently digested and absorbed by infants; they mix readily with water and help to ensure that baby foods mix easily, providing a smooth texture and consistency; and they absorb very little water from the atmosphere so keeping baby foods which flow free from the packet dry.

Maltodextrins are mostly used, in conjunction with other cereal ingredients, in those dried baby foods that need only the addition of water for their preparation. These baby foods must provide all the appropriate nutrients as well as an appropriate energy density in the dried product. Maltodextrins are used in some recipes to help provide an appropriate energy density whilst maintaining a consistency and texture suitable for babies.

What is the difference between organic and non-organic baby foods?

Organic foods are grown in accordance with European legislation for organic foods.

In the UK, the Soil Association is the main organisation responsible for certifying that foods are 'organic' and its symbol will appear on the label of the 'organic' food. More recently an EU organic logo has been introduced. Other organisations, including some from other countries, can also legally certify products as organic. The EU also has an equivalence arrangement with the US. This means that as long as the terms of the arrangement are met, organic operations certified to the USDA or EU organic standards may be labelled and sold as organic in both countries.

For any food to be labelled ‘organic’ at least 95% of the agricultural ingredients must be certified organic.  The remaining 5% has to be approved by the Organic Accreditation body.

The main differences between organic and non-organic foods are:

a.       Organic foods are produced using organic farming methods which aim to encourage biodiverse habitats and sustainable farming practices, e.g. crop rotation which builds up nutrients naturally in the soil

b.      Organic animals are fed primarily on organically-grown feedstuffs

c.       Organic foods are grown and stored without the use of artificial fertilisers and most pesticides. There are still a limited range of pesticides that can be used, but it is very unusual for organic baby foods to contain any pesticide residues. All commercial baby foods, whether organic or not, must not exceed a level of 10 parts per billion of pesticide residues.

What is weaning?

Weaning is the process of changing from a milk-based diet to one made up of a variety of foods and drinks.

First the baby learns to move food to the back of his or her mouth and swallow, and then progresses on to chewing larger lumps of food. The UK Department of Health recommends six months exclusive breastfeeding before solid foods are introduced. In Europe the recommendation, based on a review of scientific evidence by the European Food Safety Authority and paediatric nutrition expert groups, is that babies are ready for weaning between four and six months of age.

The Department of Health and the NHS publish advice and guidance on when to wean and the foods that are appropriate at different stages of weaning.

Parents are encouraged to seek advice from a healthcare professional when they are thinking about weaning their child onto solid foods. It is important to remember that each baby will transition through weaning stages at different times and will have varying needs.

All foods have different nutrients so ensuring that a baby eats a wide variety of food is important not only in providing a balanced diet for their healthy growth and development, but also in helping to establish healthy eating practices for life.

Why does the advice on age of weaning differ?

Every baby is an individual and grows and develops at its own rate.  

The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months of age, followed by the introduction of complementary foods. This recommendation has been supported by the UK Department of Health.

However, reviews of the scientific evidence by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) suggest that it may be more appropriate that babies are weaned according to individual needs (but not before 17 weeks of age and weaning should have commenced by 6 months of age).

We recommend that any queries on weaning a baby should be directed to a health professional.

Should parents avoid feeding cow’s milk to their baby?

Cow’s milk should not be used as a drink for a baby under 12 months of age.7

However, cow’s milk can be used as a food ingredient from 6 months of age, for example when making up cereals, cheese sauces or in recipes.

Cow’s milk can be used as the main drink once an infant has reached 12 months old.  It is recommended that young children 1-2 years old should be given whole (full fat) milk, not skimmed or semi-skimmed milk.

What are the benefits of special 'toddler' foods?

Although the physical growth of toddlers is less rapid than in infancy, it is between the ages of 1-3 years that significant behavioural and developmental changes occur.

Young children aged 1-3 years may exhibit behaviours such as demanding to feed him/herself, refusing to eat meals, requesting or refusing certain foods or exhibiting bizarre food preferences - all of which may lead to a limited nutrient intake.

Foods and drinks which have been specially developed for toddlers can have distinct nutritional benefits: they have been specially designed to meet the nutritional requirements of young children up to 3 years of age and may be especially helpful in introducing the faddy eater, who will only accept a very limited range of foods, to a wider range of nutritious meals. A range of small finger foods can help a young child to take control of feeding him/herself, which is also an important stage of development.

Milk-based drinks for young children, also called ‘toddler milk’ or ‘growing up milk’, which are suitable for young children over 12 months of age, can also be a useful addition to the diet of a young child. Milk-based drinks for young children are fortified milk products which provide key nutrients that may be limited in the diets of young children of this age, including iron and vitamin D. Milk-based drinks for young children provide these nutrients in smaller volumes of milk compared to other formulae, reflecting the fact that young children aged 1-3 years have a reduced reliance on milk drinks as the range of other foods they eat increases.

What nutrients are important for infants and young children?

Different foods provide different nutrients, and so the wider the variety of foods a young child eats, the greater the range of nutrients. Macronutrients including protein, carbohydrate, fat, and micronutrients, including vitamins and minerals, are all essential for infants and young children.

Carbohydrate and fat are key sources of energy for this age group, whilst protein is needed for normal growth and development of bone in children.  Unlike adults, a high fibre diet is not suitable for babies as it can interfere with the absorption of essential minerals, such as calcium and zinc. Also, because of their small stomach capacity, it would be difficult for infants to consume a sufficient quantity of bulky, fibre rich foods to meet their energy requirements.

Iron is an essential micronutrient, which contributes to normal cognitive development of children whilst calcium and vitamin D are needed for normal growth and development of bone in children.

What is the role of government and healthcare professionals and the infant nutrition industry as a source of information for parents and carers?

The Government provides a range of support programmes and advice for parents and healthcare professionals looking to provide the best nutritional start for babies and toddlers. 

Healthcare professionals play a critical role in implementing infant feeding policy and providing hands-on support for parents and carers.

The infant nutrition industry uses decades of scientific research and practical experience from parents, carers and healthcare professionals to help parents and carers make informed choices. Tens of thousands of parents contact company helplines and online forums each month to speak to professionals in infant nutrition and feeding. 

Government support programmes

Programme

What is it?

Who is it aimed at?

Bump to Breastfeeding Resource

Wide-ranging source of advice and guidance for pregnant women commissioned by the Department of Health

Health professionals supporting pre and post natal women.

‘Families in the Foundation Years’

Joint venture from the Department for Education and Department of Health to provide support from pregnancy through to school age.

Health visitors, midwives and GPs supporting parents through pregnancy until their child is 4-5 years old.

Healthy Start Scheme

Means-tested voucher scheme to support low-income families to have access to milk and fresh fruit and vegetables.

Parents who are more than 10 weeks pregnant or have a child under the age of 4 years.

Healthy Child Programme – Pregnancy and the first five years

A series of reviews, screening tests, vaccinations and information that supports parents and helps them to give their child the best chance of staying healthy and well.

Parents with children aged between 0 and 5 years

Start4Life

Government campaign to support a better start in life for infants from birth, by providing information on the recommendations on breastfeeding, appropriate introduction of solid foods and active play.

Healthcare professionals and parents with children aged between 0 and 12 months

Sure Start Children’s Centres

Sure Start Children’s Centres provide services, support and advice for new parents. These are mostly free, with the exception of childcare services (apart from where free entitlements apply).

Parents with children aged between 0 to 4-5 years

Family Nurse Partnership Programme (FNP)

A licensed preventative programme for vulnerable first time young mothers. It offers intensive and structured home visiting delivered by specially trained nurses.

First time young mothers from early pregnancy until their child is 2 years old.

How does science increase our understanding of the nutritional needs of infants?

There is a vast amount of knowledge and expertise in both the public and private sectors that helps to continually advance knowledge in infant nutrition. Research takes place independently in both sectors, as well as in collaboration.

Some of the sites which carry out infant nutrition research within the UK include:

  • Imperial College - The Neonatal Data Analysis Unit (NDAU)
  • King’s College - Department of Paediatric Allergy
  • The University of Cambridge - MRC Epidemiology Unit
  • The University of Nottingham -  Maternal Health and Wellbeing Research Group  and The Early Life Nutrition Group
  • The University of Leeds - The Human Appetite Research Unit (HARU) infant laboratory
  • University College London’s Childhood Nutrition Research Centre, which is part of the Institute of Child Health
  • The University of Lancashire’s Maternal and Infant Nutrition and Nurture Unity (MAINN)
  • The University of York’s Mother and Infant Research Unit
  • Leeds Beckett University – Born in Bradford Cohort
  • University of Southampton – Early Life Nutrition Group
  • University of Oxford – The National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit (NPEU)

The infant nutrition industry plays a major role in advancing research and development into optimal nutrition for infants to: improve our understanding of their needs; improve product formulation; and provide parents with greater choice. This action continually improves standards across the infant feeding sector. Company-led research has also provided further evidence to support the importance of breastmilk and breastfeeding.

Globally, the infant nutrition industry invests an estimated 3-4% of its annual turnover into research and development.

All research complies with high standards of scientific integrity and is conducted in an open and transparent manner. Full clinical research papers are published in scientific peer reviewed journals.

How are infant milks and foods sold in the UK regulated?

Manufacturers of infant milks and foods are highly regulated, ensuring the highest standards in safety and quality – above those required for other types of food. The composition of, and process for, producing infant milks and food are based on scientific research and strict regulation governed by the EU and UK authorities.

In the UK, manufacturers of infant formula and follow-on formula comply with all UK regulations and legislation, which incorporate principles of the World Health Organisation (WHO) International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes. For more information on regulation visit our infant nutrition regulation page here.

Who is responsible for the legislation?

The UK Government and its regulating agencies are heavily involved in the implementation of the EU legislation into UK law. This is done by assessing whether domestic law is consistent with EU law, legislating through Statutory Instruments in Parliament with the addition of statutory offences and penalties.

Relevant departments will also issue guidance on how regulations should be implemented. These include:

  • The Department of Health (DH). It is responsible for setting policy on infant nutrition and will implement all regulations, including those relating to infant formula, follow-on formula and other foods for infants and young children. The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) is an advisory committee of independent experts that provides advice to the Department of Health, as well as other government agencies and departments. 
  • The Food Standards Agency (FSA). Its role is to protect public health in relation to food throughout the UK with a focus on food safety. It also works closely with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which provides scientific advice to the European Commission on all areas of food policy.
  • The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). It is the primary authority for food policy in the UK. Defra works closely with the DH, FSA and others to deliver policy and legislation on food, and its enforcement.

As with all food, Trading Standards Officers enforce national regulation at a local level. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) regulates advertising in the media.