Women who choose to bottle feed their babies should be respected and not feel any pressure to breastfeed, midwives have been told.
A new position statement from the Royal College of Midwives states that women should be supported if they opt to bottle feed with formula milk, and not be 'shamed into' feeding from the breast.
It comes after mums reported feeling pressurised to continue breastfeeding, and those using formula milk felt judged and guilty, particularly if they had initially planned to breastfeed and it didn't work out.
The new advice on infant feeding still describes exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life as the 'most appropriate method of infant feeding', but takes a softer stance than in the past on those who don't want to or can't breastfeed.
Dr Ravi Jayaram, consultant paediatrician at the Countess of Chester Hospital, has welcomed the new statement, which makes it explicitly clear that women should be supported if, after being given advice, information and support, they opt to bottle feed using formula.
Writing on his Facebook page, Dr Jayaram said: "I think this has needed saying for a long time. Breastfeeding doesn’t always work for mums and babies.
"I’ve seen so many mums feel they have 'failed' if it hasn’t worked. We need to allow informed choices but not be judgmental about breastfeeding. It should be encouraged but professionals need to recognise when it isn’t working," he added.
The new statement recommends that balanced and relevant information be given to parents choosing to formula feed their babies, whether exclusively or partially, to enable them to do so safely and with support to encourage good bonding.
It goes on to say: "Also highlighted is the need for maternity units to be appropriately staffed and for sufficient investment to be made in postnatal care to enable each woman to get the support and advice she needs to make informed choices about feeding her baby."
The revised statement comes after researchers at Liverpool University studied the experiences of more than 1,600 new mums in 2016. Among the 890 who formula fed their babies, 67% reported feeling guilty, 68% felt stigmatised and 76% felt the need to defend their feeding choice.
Gill Walton, chief executive of the RCM said: "We recognise that some women cannot or do not wish to breastfeed and rely on formula milk.
"They must be given all the advice and support they need on safe preparation of bottles and responsive feeding to develop a close and loving bond with their baby."
The National Childbirth Trust says women can experience unacceptable levels of pressure however they feed their babies - from family and friends, as well as from people they hardly know.
The UK has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in Europe.
Although most new mothers try it initially, less than half are still exclusively breastfeeding when their baby is six weeks old, and this drops to about 1% at six months.