Infant food insecurity - responding and preventing: guide

Following discussions in June 2023, we committed to forming a short life working group to develop emergency integrated pathways for families in Scotland with an infant that may face food insecurity and what is available locally to them in an emergency. This toolkit forms a guide for local areas.

Supporting local approaches – issues to consider

Guiding principles

Alongside the Key Messages, we have developed guiding principles based on what we have heard from the cross-sector working group who informed the development of this resource.

Local areas should aim to have in place responsive support for families with infants under 12 months, in immediate crisis, to enable them to meet their baby’s specific nutritional needs. This should include emergency provision of infant formula where essential, for as long as the baby needs it, as well as breastfeeding support where breastfed. This support should be adaptable based on existing local pathways and responses, including out of hours provision. Where infant formula is used, advice and support on how to safely prepare and store this should also be provided.

  • Families should be able to access support whenever they need it, but support may look different at night or over weekends, depending on emergency out of hours provision in your local area. The key is that support needs to be available.
  • This is not about providing infant formula to all babies who are formula fed. It is about providing a route for parents with an infant under 12 months in urgent need a safe, reliable route to accessing formula milk and support for safe and responsive feeding.
  • Support for breastfeeding, particularly where a family do not have an adequate food supply for themselves and a mother’s is concerned over their ability to start or continue to breastfeed their baby, reassurance and skilled support should be put in place. Connecting with your local NHS Infant Feeding team can help provide seamless care.
  • Where a baby is fed through a combination of breastmilk and formula, finding ways to maximise breastmilk is as important as providing access to sustainable routes for purchasing infant formula.[11]

Support should be inclusive and recognise the particular needs of marginalised groups within local populations, including those who are most likely to be destitute.

  • Local organisations should consider their approach to collective, accessible communications for staff and their communities, to help tackle the stigma from asking for help and present it in ways that enable trusting relationships to be built with families.
  • Population level needs assessments and local intelligence can help to identify where families more likely to be experiencing severe food insecurity are located.
  • Co-creating pathways with families is more likely to result in support that is accessible, understandable and trusted by those most likely to be in need. This could be through existing community infrastructure/bodies who have strong engagement by under-served communities.
  • Consideration should be given to the specific needs of groups who may face heightened barriers and risks such as those with No Recourse to Public Funds or severe mental health conditions

Pathways should be rights-based, free from stigma, trauma informed, and integrated into wider local supports and provisions to minimise repeated need for crisis intervention.

  • When a family with a baby is in crisis, infant feeding support cannot wait. This point needs to be understood and recognised by everyone involved, including staff, parents and carers to create an enabling environment for responsive feeding.
  • The aim of this work is to better identify those in immediate need as well as those most likely to be in need, to start to improve prevention and early intervention support to reduce a family’s needs escalating or not resolving.
  • Promotion of safe and appropriate infant feeding, whether infants are breastfed, formula fed or both, should be included in local messaging and resources.
  • Co-creation of approaches and messaging with local families should be considered to support awareness and understanding of support that is available that meets their needs.
  • Consideration should also be given to this messaging during pregnancy for support to be provided in advance of the baby being born.

Pathways should be clearly communicated and co-ordinated locally, with all relevant agencies, including the third sector to provide responsive, tailored support to meet individual level need.

  • Consideration should be given to how to maximise coordination between national and local partner organisations, including the third and voluntary sector as a key contributor to support provision.
  • Consideration should be given to the most appropriate ways to provide support in line with individual needs of families, including use of cash first approaches and the potential to be innovative around use of crisis funding.
  • Approaches to supporting families should be linked to wider income maximisation and financial inclusion pathways to enable holistic, family support to be provided to meet longer term need.



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