When I had my first baby and the conversation would turn to breastfeeding (which it seemed to a lot), people would often talk about the benefits of breastfeeding for the baby and then add on cheerfully “and it’s free!”
This drove me crazy. Breastfeeding for me was not free at all (and I’d argue that it isn’t free for anyone, even when who are exclusively nursing and never buy a pump or bottle, but more on that later). Below is a list of what I bought when I was exclusively pumping for my first baby:
- Medela Freestyle (I got it at a discount through work) – $250
- Medela Pump in Style (I bought it second-hand, never used, to leave at work so I didn’t have to carry a pump back and forth every day) – $100
- Medela Harmony (bought after forgetting my Freestyle charger in a hotel) – $42
- Breast milk freezer storage bags – $50 (estimated, about two big boxes plus some leftover ones from friends)
- Breast pads – $75 (estimated, about 8 boxes used over the course of a year)
- Hands-free bra (I got one as a hand-me-down from a friend and bought two more) – $70
- Nursing cover – $30
- Nursing bras – $60
- Bottles – $60 (estimate, about 3 packs of 4 Medela bottles, plus some hand-me-downs from friends)
- Lanolin – $16 (estimate, I’m guessing I used two tubes)
- Milkscreen – $0 (got as a hand-me-down from a friend)
- Fenugreek – $16
Grand Total: $769
Now, was all of this absolutely necessary gear for my career an an exclusive pumper? No – I certainly didn’t “need” three breast pumps or three hands-free bras (the one that I got as a hand-me-down could have worked on its own). Everything else was reasonably necessary to make life work as an exclusive pumper who didn’t leak all over herself at work or flash her pump parts to the general public while commuting in the car. If we subtract those things, that brings the total down to $541. Given that breast pumps are covered by insurance in the U.S. these days (my son was born in 2011, pre-Obamacare), that total cost will come down even more for many exclusive pumpers.
The other thing that I would add in here – and this is why I said that breastfeeding isn’t free for anyone, even a woman who nurses exclusively and has no gear – is more food for yourself. Each ounce of milk that you produce gives your baby 20 calories, and that is either coming from extra food that you eat or your fat stores. Even if a woman decides to diet to lose the baby weight after her baby is born, if she breastfeeds for a full year, at some point she will need additional calories. I don’t really know how to quantify this, as what every woman eats will be different, but it’s something to think about when you consider costs.
A final thing to consider in this equation is additional children. To feed my second baby, my only expenses are the consumable things in the above list – lanolin, breast pads, freezer bags, and food.
So how does this compare to what a formula feeding parent would spend? I did the math using Enfamil Infant formula as a case study (because that’s what I used to supplement with with my son and it seems middle of the road, price-wise). If we estimate that a baby will drink 25 ounces a day and 5 ounces will need to be thrown out due to bottles not being finished within the allowable hour time frame, then we need 30 ounces per day. Each tub makes 167 ounces (see above link), which means we need a new tub every 5.5 days, which is 65 tubs per year at a cost of $24.98 each (amazon price on 1/16/14). That totals to $1,573.64.
So it looks like breastfeeding via exclusively pumping is definitely cheaper than formula feeding. But even for your infant, there is no such thing as a free lunch! 🙂
Was the price of formula a factor in your decision to exclusively pump?