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. Here’s what I spent when I was exclusively pumping (hint: it was a lot) and whether there actually ended up being a cost savings of breastfeeding versus formula.
How Much Does Formula Feeding Cost?
To calculate this, we need to make a couple of assumptions –
- How many ounces of formula the average baby eats per day
- How much an ounce of formula costs
In terms of how many ounces per day, this will vary by baby and also by age – some babies eat more than others, and most babies eat less as newborns than they do when they are older. I will assume 20 ounces at the low end to 32 ounces on the high end, with an average of about 25 ounces of formula per day.
Then we have how much each of these ounces costs. As of May 2019, you can buy 133.37 fl oz of formula (Enfamil, which is a middle of the road brand) for $27.98. This comes out to $0.21 per ounce.
Therefore, a baby who eats 25 ounces a day will eat 9,125 oz in a year, which will cost $1,914. The cost of formula feeding per month would be $159.
How Much Does Breastfeeding Cost?
As I said above, lots of people will say that’s free, but it’s not. The costs of breastfeeding include:
- Any breastfeeding gear needed by the mother – This could be $0, or it could be quite a bit of money for a pumping and working or exclusively pumping mother (you can see my list below)
- Extra nutrition for the breastfeeding mother – 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 – the extra energy isn’t spontaneously produced in your boobs.
- The breastfeeding mother’s time – I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “time is money,” and choosing to breastfeed/pump means choosing not to spend your time in another way. (I loved breastfeeding and pumping and happily chose spend my time that way! But there is an opportunity cost to it, so it’s important to evaluate if that cost is worth it to YOU.)
Here’s How Much I Spent on Breastfeeding
Below is a list of what I bought over the course of a year when I was exclusively pumping for my first baby:
- Medela Freestyle (This was pre-ACA; now I could have gotten a pump free through insurance) – $250
- Consultation with Lactation Consultant after my son wasn’t gaining weight – $150
- Medela Pump in Style (This was a second-hand – never used – pump I bought 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 for storing frozen milk – $50 (two big boxes plus some leftover ones from friends)
- Breast pads – $75 (eight boxes)
- Hands-free pumping bras – $70 (two)
- Nursing cover – $30
- Nursing bras – $60
- Bottles – $60 (three packs of four Medela bottles)
- Extra Sets of Pump Parts – $90 (three sets)
- Lanolin – $16 (two tubes)
- Milkscreen – $16
- Fenugreek – $16
Grand Total Spent on Breastfeeding: $965
Was all of this absolutely necessary gear for my career an an exclusive pumper? Of course not – I certainly didn’t “need” three breast pumps, two hands-free bras, or three sets of extra pump parts.
However, it’s really easy to burn on out on exclusive pumping, so the easier you can make it with (for example) extra sets of pump parts and a hands-free bra, the longer you’re likely to do it – which means more time that you’re not spending money on formula.
So what is absolutely necessary? Other than a pump (obviously), that answer pretty much depends on you. Some women will have oversupply and will spend $0 on supplements like fenugreek or blessed thistle, while others might spend $100 a month on nursing teas and lactation cookies. Some women might need lanolin or coconut oil in order to be able to pump without pain, and others won’t need anything.
Cost of Pumping Versus Formula
As you can see, I saved about $1,000 what I spent on breastfeeding gear versus what it would have cost me to formula feed, but that excludes the cost of all of the extra food that I ate (so much Ben & Jerry’s) and my time.
One important thing to consider in the cost of pumping and breastfeeding is that many of the things you buy are up-front costs for the first baby that you won’t have with any additional children you have. To feed my second and third babies, my only expenses were the consumable things in the above list, such as lanolin, breast pads, and breast milk freezer bags.
What has your experience been with the costs of pumping versus formula? How much did you spend on breastfeeding gear? Tell us in the comments!