GLASGOW baby banks are supporting a call for a change in guidance that stops foodbanks giving parents formula milk for their babies.

Local groups have told harrowing stories of mums watering down infant formula to make it last longer and parents walking across the city to access formula after being turned away elsewhere.

They claim use of their services has soared during the pandemic and - despite acknowledging the vital health benefits of breastfeeding - say babies simply must be well fed.

But foodbanks counter that they are following UNICEF guidance to protect the health and wellbeing of children.

Natasha Earle, founder of West End-based Birth, Baby and Beyond, is completing her Masters degree in midwifery and fully encourages mums to breastfeed.

But, she says, that advice can't come at any cost.

Natasha said: "I will always advocate for breastfeeding and I breastfed three of my own children. I know how important it is.

"However, I have had mums who are watering down formula to make a tin last because they can't afford to buy it.

"We have families who have walked all the way across Glasgow to get to us.

"We have families who come to us at different ages. If a baby is six or eight weeks then there is still a window there to support and encourage breastfeeding - but if the child is six or seven months then that window has largely closed.

"We can't turn formula fed babies away and not give them their food supply.

"I get that the foodbanks are following guidelines but when families are in extreme financial hardship we just need to give the baby a food source."

Birth, Baby and Beyond estimates it has supported around 45,000 families since it was set up in 2012.

Initially the charity gave vital equipment - such as cots and prams - to new mums before developing its starter packs full of essentials for mums and babies.

Workers then saw a need to feed babies and started also offering formula milk.

Since the start of the pandemic, Natasha says, requests for milk have "soared" and the charity has supported more than 4000 babies and children with free food products with around 15 calls a day asking for help.

The charity applied for funding from Glasgow City Council's new Glasgow Communities Fund but the bid was rejected.

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Now the charity faces closure and has launched a campaign to ask council bosses to reverse their decision. A petition can be found here:

Natasha said: "I am working every day to save the charity but we are looking like we will have to close in early December if we can't reverse this decision.

"Given how high a demand we currently have, this would be a disaster for families trying to access formula milk."

A council spokesman said demand for grant support has been "exceptional" with applications received for well over double the total value of the fund.

Infant feeding charity, Feed, has now launched an inquiry into the accessibility of infant formula for families experiencing food poverty.

The purpose of the inquiry, working with Aberdeen-based baby bank AberNecessities, is to gather opinions and experiences on the provision of infant formula to formula fed babies from food and baby banks.

They hope to use the information gathered from the inquiry to further inform the development of policies that allow baby and food banks across Scotland to provide first infant formula to formula fed babies in crisis.

Dr Erin Williams of Feed said: “Baby and food banks in Scotland should be able to provide formula fed babies with infant formula safely, responsibly, and with dignity but current guidelines are creating barriers to provision meaning vulnerable babies are going without their main, or sole, source of nutrition.

"We’re working hard with service providers to overcome these barriers and the inquiry will help ensure our policies and procedures are reflective of the needs of the fantastic staff and volunteers who provide these crucial services, and the families who rely on them for support.”

Glasgow North Baby Food Bank is also supporting the inquiry. The Springburn baby bank was set up by four local mums who saw that others in the area desperately needed help.

During the pandemic they have been working out of Springburn Parish Church to make sure vital supplies get where they are needed.

Tracey Pender, one of the founders, said: "Last year the four of us got together to try to source formula for a local family - and it basically grew from four mammies sitting round a table.

"For the past six months it has just been pandemonium with the amount of formula we have been providing, working five days a week from 11am to 3pm.

"Through the pandemic we've seen 20 to 30 families a day. It is heartbreaking to see people who have worked so hard and who are now struggling.

"One of the big problems at the start was that people were stockpiling. So we had families coming to us where their local supermarket was completely sold out and they don't have a car to drive across the city to a different supermarket.

"We had a family come all the way from Ayr because they couldn't source formula locally and a mum from Ayr because so few places give it out.

"Of course breastfeeding is important but it's not for us to decide what someone else does.

"Some mums have other issues and can't breastfeed. Formula is food and a child still needs fed."

A spokeswoman for the Trussell Trust said the charity will refer parents to local professional services while also campaigning for government policy change to "put more money in the pockets of families".

She added: "The well-being of anyone needing a food bank is our main priority – we know there are local services and organisations in communities across the country who specialise in supporting families with infants, so recommend food banks help people access that support as quickly as possible.

"As we are not health professionals, we feel it is important for our guidance to mirror the standards set by UNICEF which are used in many NHS settings across the UK.

"That’s why we encourage food banks to provide a standard family parcel and refer families with infants to schemes like Healthy Start or onto local professional services, like health visitors, who are better placed to provide appropriate, holistic support."

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