4 Ways Breast-Feeding Saves Money

by Xin Lu on 28 February 2011 8 comments
Photo: niXerKG

I breast-fed my son exclusively for the first six months of his life, and then I supplemented his meals with some homemade baby foods. For his first twelve months, most of his food was breast milk. I didn't do this out of cheapness, but I did save thousands of dollars on feeding my child. Here are some reasons why breast-feeding can save money. (See also: Cheap Way to Get Rid of Plastic Baby Bottles)

Breast Milk Is "Free"

I never knew how much baby formula cost until I started to look at baby products during pregnancy. Formula currently costs around $2,000 to $3,000 for the first year of a baby's life if purchased at retail prices. On the other hand, breast milk is produced by the mother from the food she consumes, so it is essentially "free," since the mother needs to eat anyway. Some women need to take in more calories than usual, but most women have enough fat stores from pregnancy so that extra food is not needed to produce milk. Personally I did spend a couple hundred dollars on breast-feeding equipment, and you can read my detailed account about breast pumps.

Breast-Feeding Equipment Is Tax Deductible

As mentioned in the previous section, you do have to buy breast pumps and other breast-feeding equipment if you intend to store your milk. A recent IRS ruling on breast-feeding equipment just made this expense tax deductible, so you can use your Medical Flexible Spending Account to pay for them. This means that you can potentially use pre-tax money to buy breast-feeding equipment, and that makes the costs even lower. This decision is stirring up controversy because many claim that this discriminates against non-breast-feeding moms, but that brings me to part of the next point, that breast-fed babies generally cost the government less in medical costs.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

Breast-Fed Babies Are Sick Less Often

There are numerous studies that show that breast-fed babies are less likely to experience Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and other childhood diseases. One big reason is that breast milk carries many antibodies produced by the mother, and the baby gets some of the immunities against the diseases the mom has already experienced. A healthy child incurs very few medical costs, and in an analysis published in Pediatrics last year, the authors state that if all U.S. women followed the recommendation to breast-feed their babies exclusively for the first six months of life, then the nation would save $13 billion a year in medical costs.

Health Benefits to Mom

There have been numerous studies that show that moms who breast-fed for six months had less chance of developing diseases such as reproductive cancer and diabetes. Another huge benefit is that breast-feeding moms lose their pregnancy weight a lot easier than moms who do not breast-feed. This is because producing a full day's milk for a baby burns 500 to 600 calories. This is equivalent to running for an hour and a half. Personally, I lost almost 40 pounds in nine months on the "breast-feeding diet," which consisted of eating as much as I wanted and feeding the baby breast milk. My BMI went from overweight to the middle of the normal range, and I'm keeping the weight off. Less obesity and health issues for breast-feeding mom also means fewer medical costs.

Breast-feeding is a very personal choice, and it does not work out for everyone for many reasons. However, from a purely financial perspective it is the cheapest way to feed and care for your new baby. I am glad that it worked out for my family, and I really encourage new moms to at least try it out if possible. It takes patience and practice to get a good routine going, but it is definitely worthwhile. The money we saved on formula has already gone to our son's college fund, and in 17 years the couple-thousand dollars we contributed will hopefully grow into a tidy sum.

What do you think? Did you ever consider the financial benefits to breast-feeding?

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Guest's picture
Emily

If mothers-to-be would research the ingredients of conventional formula, and the long-term negative effects on health of these ingredients, they would be a lot more likely to try breastfeeding and to stick to it longer.

Andrea Karim's picture

I only wish that breastfeeding was a more convenient experience. I don't have kids, but I've worked with new mothers who do, and they struggle to get the breastfeeding done in between their 9-5 work days.

Linsey Knerl's picture

You are so right, Andrea. Was it any coincidence that that time I went back to work with each of my critters was exactly the same time they decided to wean? Milk production is difficult when you are being pulled in so many directions, and I find it sad that so many moms are forced to decide between the best in nutrition for their new little bundles or making a much-needed income for their family. In an ideal world, Moms could provide both milk and milk money, and some manage (miraculously) to do so quite well. These Moms have my highest praises, as it's not easy to do.

I'm thankful I'm in a work-at-home career with this new baby of mine. He's chubby, spoiled, and a perfect compliment to my writing career. If only all Moms could be so blessed!

Guest's picture
Samantha

Breastfeeding is wonderful, but it's only 'free' if a woman's time is worth nothing. It is a commitment, plain and simple, and there are costs that are not financial (or in some cases are financial, like pumps, lactation consultants, and/or if you work outside the home and need to take unpaid breaks to pump). Also that $13 billion saved study from Pediatrics has been pretty well debunked: http://mommadata.blogspot.com/2011/02/surgeon-generals-botches-breastfee...

It is a wonderful thing to do for your baby and has lots of great benefits to be sure, but let's represent them honestly. Formula is NOT bad for babies, but it is more expensive in many ways!

Guest's picture
Olivia

Yeah. . .I am not buying it. Sure, breastfeeding, strictly financially speaking is cheaper. However, as one commenter already mentioned, there is a time cost. Breastfeeding can also cause a lot of stress and physical pain for the mother. The cost of formula is not as outrageous as it first looks. First of all, you can buy generic, which is half the price of name-brand and just as nutritious. Secondly, you can sign up for formula checks from the name-brand companies. You can trade for coupons with other moms online. Or, you can buy unexpired, sealed cans on Ebay from mothers who bought too much formula. Breastfeeding, though great, was not for me and certainly not for everybody.

Guest's picture
asrai

Comments like these perpetuate the myth that breastfeeding is "Hard." It's not hard. It does take a bit of work and some patience. We expect babies to come out and be independent and then get upset when they are needy little suckers. UH yeah, they can't do a damn thing on thier own. They are babies. They need you every 2-3 hours for the first few months.

It is not painful unless you have an improper latch which isn't a hard thing to overcome.

What we lack is nurses trained in proper breastfeeding and in the US there is a culture of lack of maternity leave to support breastfeeding.

Guest's picture

The time cost is a tough argument. Yes, if women find that their earning power is limited in their child's first year because of breastfeeding and pumping, then that should certainly be calculated as a "cost" to breastfeeding that could exceed the $3k the family may spend on formula.
However, the fact is that babies need to be held and fed and that breastfeeding is an soothing activity, not just a feeding mechanism. Feeding a baby with formula does not as a rule take less time than breastfeeding, although it does take less time than pumping and then bottle feeding the pumped milk.
Personally, I felt that the hours I have spent breastfeeding my children were all time well spent. Since I stayed home, worked from home or came home at lunch to nurse while my children were infants, and during most of those hours I would not have been earning a salary if I were not breastfeeding. Actually, I would have been busy feeding them bottles during the same time, so my earning power would not have increased at all.
The cost to the workplace in inconvenience for pumping mothers would be reduced if our society was more baby friendly. It would be much easier if it was accepted as normal for mothers to simply keep their babies with them physically for the first six months of life, at work and at home. Longer, paid maternity leaves would help too.

Guest's picture

Thanks for a great, sensible article about the variety of benefits associated with breastfeeding! Occasionally, a mother and her child need extra assistance to be successful at breastfeeding. Most hospitals will have a breastfeeding specialist available to help. After being discharged, discuss any issues with your pediatrician and ask for a referral if needed. Don't give up! The benefits to your child are really worth it!