NIHR Obesity Policy Research Unit at UCL


Monitoring of marketing of breast milk substitutes to pregnant and postnatal mothers in the UK


Monitoring of marketing of breast milk substitutes (BMSs) to pregnant and postnatal mothers in the UK (WHO EU CLICK) 


Breast milk substitutes (BMS) are infant formulas that are suitable from birth (first infant formula, sometimes called ‘first milk’). This project aims to provide a broad outline of digital marketing strategies used by BMS companies in the UK. It will provide a detailed descriptive analysis of BMS adverts, including types of messages and cross-promotional strategies used. The viewing behaviour and exposure of pregnant and postnatal mothers to these digital marketing messages will be analysed in detail.


Advertising of  first infant formula is restricted in the UK to publications specialising in baby care and scientific publication. The legislation sets requirements for the labelling, presentation and advertising of first infant formula and follow-on formula (marketed for use from 6 months of age) so as to not to discourage breast-feeding. The legislation permits the advertising of follow-on formula but the packaging must be designed in a way to avoid confusion with first infant formula. The legislation for first infant formula and follow-on formula does not cover growing-up formula – also known as toddler milk, which is marketed as suitable from 1 year. There is limited monitoring of digital and social media marketing of BMSs to pregnant and post-natal mothers. However, digital marketing is increasingly being used to influence societal norms and may impact caregivers’ infant feeding practices. There is concern that inappropriate marketing of BMSs can mislead caregivers and may encourage purchase and overreliance on expensive formula products and undermine breastfeeding.

Aims and methodology

This is a collaborative research project, involving research and policy teams across different countries, including the WHO regional office for Europe (WHO EU) and the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC). A market research company will recruit pregnant women and postnatal mothers in the UK to take part. Screen time capture software will be used to monitor digital and social media exposure to BMS marketing. The data will then be categorised and analysed. This project will feed into the larger WHO EU CLICK study.


June 2022