Today, UNICEF UK published an open letter to the Prime Minister calling on the UK government to deliver a National Baby and Toddler guarantee for every young child, regardless of where they live.

Young children across the country are missing out on vital support at the most important time of their lives. From health visitor appointments to mental health support, to affordable childcare – parents and carers need better access to local services because #EarlyMomentsMatter. A child’s first few years are the foundations for their ongoing health, development and safety.

Celebrities and children’s charities have joined the campaign. If enacted, the National Baby and Toddler Guarantee would set out the basic services that every young child is entitled to – and make sure they get them. It would mean parents and carers know what support they will receive to support their baby’s health, wellbeing, and early education, right from the start.

Alison Morton, iHV CEO, says:

“This welcomed campaign by UNICEF UK shines a much-needed spotlight on the importance of the earliest years of life. At the moment, too many babies, young children and families are missing out on vital support. At the same time, we have a poor state of child health in this country with widening inequalities compared to other similar nations. Our children’s health, wellbeing and safety is too important to be left to chance – we join with a growing body of other children’s charities and celebrities calling for a National Baby and Toddler Guarantee for all, regardless of where they live”.

The mental health of babies and young children is important for their wellbeing now, and critical for their future health and development. These earliest years are a time of rapid development and offer the best chance to lay strong foundations for good mental health. Many people, however, do not really know what being mentally healthy means, especially for babies and young children.

The iHV is delighted to support today’s launch of UNICEF UK and The University of Cambridge Play in Education, Development & Learning (PEDAL) Centre’s new resource ‘Understanding and supporting mental health in infancy and early childhood -a toolkit to support local action in the UK’ that aims to promote a shared understanding of what is meant by mental health in the early years.

Hilda Beauchamp, Perinatal and Infant Mental Health Lead at iHV, said:

“We have been privileged to collaborate with UNICEF UK and PEDAL to produce this important toolkit, highlighting what can be done to support babies’ and young children’s mental health and wellbeing. Health visitors have a vital role to play in ensuring that all babies grow up being mentally healthy: able to understand and manage their emotions, experience nurturing relationships and be able to explore, play and learn.

“This toolkit will help to ensure a more effective whole system approach for health visitors to work alongside their multi-agency colleagues in developing a shared understanding of babies’ and young children’s mental health and see the contributions they can make. Supporting multi-sector working, along with addressing inequalities that affect families, can help to give babies and young children the best start in life.”

The toolkit aims to:

  • Help partners from different services and professions to develop a deeper, shared understanding of mental health in infancy and early childhood, and the factors that influence it
  • Support service leaders, commissioners and other decision makers and policy teams to develop whole-system responses to ensure babies and young children are mentally healthy now and are supported to develop the skills they need to continue to be mentally healthy throughout their lives
  • Provide resources, signposting, and conversation guides to support constructive local discussions, decisions and action about the needs of babies and young children in their area, and what more might be done to respond to these needs (including through strategy development across mental health, maternity, early years or Family Hubs and Start for Life).

Today’s report Early Moments Matter: Guaranteeing the Best Start in Life for Every Baby and Toddler in England, published by UNICEF UK, presents stark findings that over 2 million families with children under 5 in Britain are struggling financially or with their mental health.  The report, which includes data from a new YouGov poll, reveals that 1 in 3 parents – over 1 million families – are struggling to get any professional support, with 37% struggling to get help when their child is unwell.

The report highlights how basic support services like health visiting, mental health support, affordable early education and childcare should be available for everyone regardless of where they live – but instead, gaps in availability means that families across the country are missing out. UNICEF UK warns that waiting lists are long, provision is patchy and, in some areas, not there at all. Despite the unequivocal evidence on the importance of the first years of a child’s life, the charity warns that this lack of basic support is putting children’s immediate and long-term wellbeing and development at risk, and it is also having a damaging effect on parents’ mental health.

UNICEF UK is calling on the Government to address this by providing a “Baby and Toddler Guarantee” through a nationally-recognised suite of connected services, with accountability for their delivery held at the highest level of government. The Baby and Toddler Guarantee should include accessible, quality, and fully resourced maternity services, health visiting support, mental health support, SEND provision, infant feeding support, and early childhood education and care.

The Institute of Health Visiting welcomes the call for this “Guarantee” which would put an end to the current postcode lottery of support and also advance the UK government’s mission to ‘level up’ the country. The package of services included in The Baby and Toddler Guarantee should deliver the collective commitments referenced in Start for Life Vision and Family Hubs programme, the Healthy Child Programme and the NHS Long Term Plan, which together cover universal, targeted and specialist support.

Alison Morton, iHV Executive Director says:

“I am grateful for organisations like UNICEF UK who are standing up for the rights of babies and young children, whose voices have been ignored for too long by adults with the keys of power. Lifelong inequalities take root in early childhood, yet babies and young children in Britain today are currently the innocent victims of events that they have no control over. These inequalities are not inevitable, and the report’s authors present a clear plan of action to prevent unnecessary harm. However, it is also clear that, if we fail to take the warnings in this report seriously with meaningful and swift action, they will have dangerous and potentially life-changing consequences for too many of our youngest citizens.”

The report makes the following recommendations to the UK Government:

  1. Commit to making The Baby and Toddler Guarantee a reality for every baby, young child and family across the country.
  2. Make early childhood a national priority for the Government with Cabinet-level leadership to drive the delivery of The Baby and Toddler Guarantee and ensure coherence between Government departments.
  3. Deliver across-Government strategy for early childhood that builds on the vision and commitments in Best Start for Life, and responds to the challenges of workforce, funding, and governance with joint outcomes for early childhood development that sit across departments.
  4. Commit to track and monitor progress towards delivery of The Baby and Toddler Guarantee for every baby, young child, and family across the country.

In addition to a comprehensive commitment to service provision, The Baby and Toddler Guarantee must also address the “baby blind spot”’ in government decision-making by ensuring that every decision made by any government department considers its impact on and wellbeing of the nation’s youngest citizens. Currently, this would include the government’s evolving response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its response to the cost-of-living crisis.

Sign the Petition

UNICEF UK’s Early Moments Matter (#EarlyMoments Mattercampaign launches today.

Read the report



First Steps Nutrition Trust has shared this response from Unicef UK on new research on the release of microplastics during infant formula preparation, with links to new research as well as current UK guidance on bottle feeding.

The risks to infant health from not sterilising bottles or not using water that is hot enough (>70C) to kill any potentially harmful bacteria in powdered infant formula when reconstituting feeds are well researched, understood and very real.

UK Governments and Unicef UK recommend that all infant feeding equipment is sterilised and feeds are prepared as per current guidelines to prevent infection. Current recommendations can be accessed here.

It is crucial that all feeding equipment(bottles, teats and caps) is sterilised effectively, using one of the methods outlined in UK guidance to ensure that no bacteria is present when the infant formula is reconstituted. The powdered infant formula should be made up using boiled water at a temperature of 70 degrees or above following UK guidance or instructions on the infant formula packaging.

A new study published in Nature Food, 19th October 2020, investigated the impact of infant formula bottle sterilisation and infant formula preparation on the release of microplastics from polypropylene bottles. The study, conducted across 48 countries, used WHO, 2007 guidelines to sterilise bottles (using boiled water sterilisation) and prepare infant formula feeds. This study suggests that food preparation in plastic bottles, and especially where elevated temperatures are involved, resulted in higher levels of microplastics in the infant feeds than were anticipated. The authors call for further health studies to understand the implications of this research to infant health.

Until any further independent review of potential risks associated with microplastic intakes by infants is conducted, they recommend that healthcare professionals continue to support parents to bottle feed as safely as possible following the current UK recommendations.


In World Breastfeeding Week 2016 (1-7 August 2016), iHV has signed Unicef UK’s joint call to action to the UK and all devolved Governments to remove the barriers to breastfeeding and create a supportive, enabling environment for women who want to breastfeed.

The UK has some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world. Breastfeeding is viewed by many as difficult to achieve and largely unnecessary because formula milk is seen as a close second best.

Extensive evidence demonstrates that breastfeeding saves lives, improves life chances and cuts costs in every country of the world. There needs to be a fundamental shift in policy thinking and public discourse around breastfeeding.

This World Breastfeeding Week, we support Unicef UK’s Call to Action, calling on the UK and all devolved Governments to promote, protect and support breastfeeding.