“THE PRICE INCREASE OF BABY MILK IS RIDICULOUS”

It costs twice as much to feed your baby today

THE average price of baby milk has more than doubled in the past decade and parents say they are feeling the pinch.

In 2004, the average price of formula, including that for infants and for babies six months and older, was $22.66 for a 900g tin. It has climbed steadily to hit $50.01 in October this year from an average of $44.30 last year, according to figures obtained recently by The Straits Times from the Department of Statistics.

Baby milk showed the steepest price rise among dairy products.

According to Department of Statistics figures, prices went up by 11 per cent for eggs and 68 per cent for condensed milk over the last decade. A one-litre pack of fresh milk increased by 14 per cent from $2.53 in 2004 to $2.89 this October.

Echoing the sentiments of many mothers, housewife Sharon Tan, 30, said: “The price increase of baby milk is ridiculous. It is not cheap and is considered a staple for many babies.”

Parents globally spent an estimated US$11.5 billion (S$15.1 billion) on baby milk in 2010.

Milk powder companies Abbott, Nestle, Wyeth Nutrition, FrieslandCampina and Mead Johnson attributed high prices to factors such as product innovation, nutrition research – which makers of simpler dairy products might not do as much – and rising business costs. Dumex did not respond to queries.

Nestle, which manufactures the popular Nan brand, said it made price adjustments over the years “due to price increases of raw materials and other business costs such as labour, production, distribution and even packaging”.

“In addition to milk price increases, the cost of raw materials like vitamins and minerals has also been on a steady climb,” it told The Straits Times.

The rising prices of baby milk here have made some mothers more inclined to breastfeed.

Ms Suriana Rabu, 29, a merchandiser, fed her first child formula from when she was a month old, but said she would be breastfeeding her second child for as long as possible to save costs.

An infant can consume about four tins of milk a month costing about $200, while breastfeeding equipment, including a breastpump and milk bottles, means a one-off cost of between $300 and $700.

In any case, paediatric experts from KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), Mount Alvernia Hospital and the National University Hospital said though infant and follow-on milk may be heavily fortified with nutrients, a mother’s breast milk is best for the baby.

“Despite recent advances in formula research, breast milk still contains more than 100 ingredients which the infant formula industry has not been able to replicate,” said Dr Chua Mei Chien, a senior consultant in KKH’s neonatology department.

But some mothers say they find it hard to breastfeed. “For us, milk formula is essential,” said housewife Shirley Loo, 29.

Many also turn to milk formula when they return to work a few months following childbirth.

Earlier this year, at least 31 mothers reportedly fell prey to an online scam in which customers were offered milk powder that was often never delivered.

“All we wanted to do was to save money on milk as it was expensive,” said Ms Jasmine Ling, 32, a stay-at-home mum.

Parents with babies born from Aug 26, 2012 have received a larger baby bonus to cope with rising costs. They have also learnt to save a few bucks on formula – such as by buying it at Chinese medical halls, which offer slightly lower prices. Some go to Johor Baru where baby milk can be 30 to 40 per cent cheaper.

Said Ms Angie Ng, 36, an IT consultant, who goes to JB once every two months to buy milk powder: “It is cheaper. My nieces and nephews in Malaysia drink the same milk formula and they grow up as healthy as kids here.”

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