Follow on Milk? F*ck off Formula Companies.

What is follow on milk? Why is it different and does my baby need it? The adverts say it is ‘specially designed to help with your baby’s rapid growth and development between 6–12 months’.

Rubbish. Follow on formula milk was specifically designed to get around laws banning the advertising of formula milk - the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.

The World Health Organisation states that

“Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.”

Babies over a year old can have cows milk too, as well as breastmilk or formula. There is absolutely no nutritional requirement to the creation of follow on formula milks. They are literally the invention of the baby feeding industry for marketing purposes. Their fortified formulas with names such as ‘follow on’, ‘growing up’ or ‘toddler’ milk exist solely as a strategy to bypass the Code. This allows them to gain brand recognition (and thus loyalty to the un-advertised newborn formulas) and to play on parents’ insecurities, getting them to part with their hard earned cash in trying to do what they think is best for their offspring.

Surely people don’t fall for such a cheap advertising trick?

My children have never grown up with bottles being used in the house. They all went from breast to using a cup. Despite this, when his younger brother reached about a year old, I had this conversation with (16 year old) third born son:

“Eli’s old enough for follow on milk now isn’t he?”
“Eli, he needs to start follow on milk soon.”
“He’s breastfed, he doesn’t drink formula. Why do you think he needs follow on milk?”
“They say babies need different milk to grow properly and you have to start giving it to them when they get older.”
“No love, that’s just advertising.”

It’s not just a teenage A level student that gets sucked into the marketing strategy of follow on milk. The WHO states:

“A number of studies strongly suggest a direct correlation between marketing strategies for follow-up formulae, and perception and subsequent use of these products as breastmilk substitutes. In many instances, the packaging, branding and labelling of follow-up formula closely resembles that of infant formula. This leads to confusion as to the purpose of the product, i.e. a perception that follow-up formula is a breastmilk substitute.”

This is a photograph I took today of my local popular supermarket baby product aisle. Notice the packaging and placement of infant formula milks with the follow on/toddler/growing up milks. Not really any difference at all within the brands.

Ok, maybe they just want brand loyalty, nothing wrong in that. They surely understand the benefits of breastfeeding and wouldn’t deliberately undermine an established breastfeeding relationship? Here is a screenshot of a UK formula company’s website, under follow on milk it says this:

That’s right, “WHEN” you’re giving up breastfeeding. Not “If”. Not “Breastfeeding is best for babies and toddlers, do continue if possible”. But “when”. As if you are meant to stop breastfeeding and choose one of their fortified milks instead. Surely this contravenes the Code?

“If follow-up formula is marketed or otherwise represented to be suitable, with or without modification, for use as a partial or total replacement for breastmilk, it is covered by the Code. In addition, where follow-up formula is otherwise represented in a manner which results in such product being perceived or used as a partial or total replacement for breastmilk, such product also falls within the scope of the Code.” — WHO

Stark warnings about the depletion of your baby’s iron stores by 7 months cover the page alongside how much is added to their products.

Does fortified formula milk contain more iron than breast milk? Yes. Loads more. Does breastmilk contain iron? Not very much. Surely then your rapidly growing child needs this super manmade substance?

Let’s have a look at the following table:


50% of the iron in breastmilk is in a bioavailable form and therefore easily absorbed by the gut. Add to this that at 6 months old, your baby is starting to eat solid foods, and you can see that your child is doing just fine with breast milk.

Take another look at the photograph of the formula milks. Under the UK Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations (2007) companies must not use idealising text or images on infant formula (such as hearts, shields, animals). I can see hearts, shields and animals in that one picture alone.

“Even though follow-up formula is not necessary, and is unsuitable when used as a breastmilk replacement, it is marketed in a way that may cause confusion and have a negative impact on breastfeeding…. -WHO

So, does it really matter? Surely baby feeding companies should be allowed to advertise their products? If women want to breastfeed, they will do whether companies advertise or not?

Yes, it really does matter. Norway is the perfect example of this in action. Shortly after the WHO Code was enacted, a voluntary agreement was entered into between the Norwegian health authorities and the children’s food industry on the marketing of formula milk in Norway. Strict regulations cover the composition, labelling, marketing and advertising of infant formula, with twin aims of ensuring that infant formula is safe and that breastfeeding is promoted and protected.

Advertising of infant formula is restricted to scientific publications and must only contain information of scientific fact and character. With no promotion of breast milk substitutes and full support of a breastfeeding culture, 99% of Norwegian women leave maternity wards breastfeeding, 70% are exclusively breastfeeding at 3 months (90% some feeds), 80% of women are still giving some breastfeeds at 6 months.

We have the same boobs in the UK as Norwegian women. 81% of UK women give breastfeeding a try at birth, a measly 13% are exclusively breastfeeding at 3 months (Source). Advertising, promotion and the normalisation of breastfeeding makes a huge difference.

I’m not being a militant breastfeeder (well, maybe a little bit). I strongly feel that parents have the right to make informed choices about how they feed their child, but to do this they need impartial information. Brand name advertising is the opposite, it provides selective information, projecting only the qualities that advertiser chooses. And it’s mostly pseudoscience bullshit that preys on parents’ insecurities and their desire to do the best for their child, covered in a confusing display of logos and made up milk names.

Feed your baby however you choose, just please, please don’t let the greedy corporations scam you into buying imaginary products.