This is important:
1) because the suboptimal health suffered by formula-fed babies can lead to life-long negative outcomes for themselves (eg increased rates of asthma, obesity, diabetes, lower cognitive ability) and their mothers (increased risk of breast cancer and osteoporosis directly linked to the numbers of months a mother does or does not breastfeed). And because the babies born into the least advantaged environments – those who most need the health benefits of breastfeeding – are the ones least likely to receive them.
2) because when a healthcare system hands out free formula it provides an (incorrect!) endorsement to mothers about the safety and appropriateness of this method of feeding their babies. The NHS has a responsibility to promote healthy practices – this would include helping mothers to breastfeed according to international guidelines, ie exclusively for the first six months of life and partially (with weaning foods) for up to 2 years or beyond.
3) because free formula for low income women costs the government millions of £££. If mothers truly choose to formula-feed, then they should accept responsibility for paying for it themselves, bearing in mind that it takes 40 kg of formula powder to feed one baby for one year.