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 I Spent on Breastfeeding
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 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 Consultation 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.
One important thing to consider in the cost of 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.
Breastfeeding Isn’t Free for Anyone
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 – the extra energy isn’t spontaneously produced in your boobs.
Even if a woman decides to keep her food consumption at a more normal level in order 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.
Cost Savings of Breastfeeding versus Formula
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 136 ounces (see above link), which means we need a new tub every 4.5 days, which is 81 tubs per year at a cost of about $27 each (price checked 6/2018).
Grand Total for Formula for a Year: $2,190.
So it looks like there is some cost savings of breastfeeding versus than formula feeding, depending on how much your extra food costs. But even for your infant, there is no such thing as a free lunch!