Updated on 12.10.13

How Much Money Does Breastfeeding Really Save?

Trent Hamm

A reader wrote to me recently with the following interesting query:

I was wondering if you had ever sat down and done the math? It seems that exclusively breastfeeding would save an enormous amount of money. It would be very interesting to compare breastmilk versus formula costs for one year (at which point you can wean off either).

My initial reaction was that there was simply too many variables to actually do this calculation. Even if we eliminate the “intangible” benefits of breastfeeding (better health, etc.), there is still the variability of how much an ounce of formula actually costs, plus exactly how much a baby eats in an average day.

Yet, there is some merit to the question: is there really a big savings when you breastfeed versus if you don’t breastfeed at all? I made the following assumptions: I only compared 100% formula-fed babies to 100% breast-fed babies, and I excluded the cost of milk pumping entirely from this equation. I also am excluding the costs of bottles and nipples from the equation, and also any additional health benefits to both methods that are difficult to quantify. I am simply comparing the cost of the actual liquid.

The first question is how much does milk does an average baby eat during their first year of life. According to Kelly Bonyata, a certified breast-feeding specialist, an average baby, over the first year of their life, eats an average of 25 ounces of milk per day. This amount varies throughout the year, peaking well above 25 ounces around 7-8 months, but is much lower early on and near the end of the year as an average baby begins to transition to solids.

If we do the math, then, an average baby eats 9,125 ounces of milk/formula during their first year of life.

To determine the cost of formula, I again turned to statistics provided by Kelly, who said the average cost of an ounce of formula in November 2005 varied from a low of $0.07/ounce to a high of $0.31/ounce. As a generic estimate, I averaged these two to come up with an “average” formula price of $0.19/ounce.

So, if we do a straight multiplication here, we find that over the first year of life, average formula to feed an average baby costs $1,733.75, while the cost of breastmilk is $0. In both cases, we are ignoring indirect costs, such as additional nutritional needs for a nursing mother as well as costs of going to the store to buy breastmilk, bottles, and water for formula.

Even though that seems like a lot of money, there are a few factors that can lower the benefit. If a mother needs a pump due to her work schedule, those can vary in cost – we wound up spending $250 on one. It’s also a very major commitment from the mother, as the father can’t help with the breastfeeding process (which in itself can be another concern for some parents).

As for us, we found breastfeeding to be a very worthwhile endeavor, but we also saw that for many situations, breastfeeding might not be the optimal solution. It can save significant money.

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  1. Monica says:

    My sister has a 4-month-old baby and she’s primarily breastfeeding but supplementing with formula when she’s just too busy to keep a pumped supply of breastmilk, since she is working. They’re trying to save some money, though, so they’re relying on breastfeeding as much as possible.

    I think breastfeeding exclusively can be too difficult to maintain for a working mother and that using formula as a supplement can make it much easier to manage. Formula can be expensive if you end up using a lot.

  2. Rob says:

    There aint no free lunch Trent – as the economist’s like to say…

    How much extra food does the mother have to eat to produce that extra milk? If that food is more expensive than the formula, then this equation doesn’t work. You can’t assume that the cost of breast milk is $0 in the most common scenario. Of the 3 – I think Scenario 3 is the most likely:
    (a) Both women eats stacks – formula mum puts on lots of weight, BF mum keeps her weight stable. Extra cost of BF – $0
    (b) Both women eat normal amount – formula mum weight stays constant – BF mum loses weight
    (c) Formula mum eats normal amount – stays the same weight. BF mum eats a greater than normal amount – also stays the same weight (Due to burning off extra calories by producing milk).

    (Personally I think the health benefits etc win this one out)

  3. MedWanderer says:

    Breastfeeding requires 400 to 500 extra calories for the mother per day. This is around one extra meal per day, or 33% extra food per month of breastfeeding. This is still probably less expensive then formula, but it is not as much of a windfall as you thought.

  4. Alexandra says:

    It’s not difficult or expensive to get 400 extra calories a day. All you have to do is add more protein and carbs to your dinner, which amounts to an extra helping of rice, and a little more cheese on the pasta. You also substitute more caloric veggies like sweet potatoes, corn and carrots, and drink whole milk. It’s not a whole extra meal. All you have to do is adjust your recipes a bit…eat differently, not necessarily more.

    I breast feed two children and worked full-time with the oldest. Using the pump at work was not difficult…if you can’t find an outlet in a bathroom, I used an adaptor plug in the car while wearing a large privacy bib. I had an office with a locking door which helped also. I had to pump for 20 minutes every four hours, and that was enough to get ds through the day with no formula.

  5. Deepa R says:

    Adding to what Rob & MedWanderer said above, the extra cost of vitamin supplements & quality food-stuffs a breast-feeding mother takes also needs to be incorporated. This would make for a very interesting research.

  6. 3bean says:

    Yes, breast feeding requires an extra 400-500 kcal / day but the extra kcals need not always come from food– most women have extra fat stores after pregnancy. Inasmuch, another benefit of breastfeeding is that it can help women return to their pre-pregnancy weight faster.

  7. Lisa says:

    I have been breastpumping for 5 months now and am pumping at work for 10-15 minutes every four hours. We have a locker room at work which allows me the ability to leave for a few minutes. I am producing approx. 30 ounces a day with no problems. It can be a little stressful at first to get used to the change in your life, but after you get the hang of having to pump, it is not a big deal. I also lost all of my weight in the first 4 weeks and am now 15 pounds less then I was before I got pregnant. It is definitely worth it compared to how expensive formula is. I have always fed it from a bottle as my daughter wouldn’t latch on, but she is still getting the nutrients that she needs and that is all that I care about. Also, my husband was able to help with middle of the night feedings when she wasn’t sleeping thru the night. Yes, you pay $250 for a pump, but it pays for itself within about 2 months.

  8. Kate says:

    The “intangible” savings that you mentioned will likely save much money in the long-run: mothers who breastfeed have a lower risk of breast cancer. Considering how much it costs to treat, that would be a considerable savings.

  9. Jenners says:

    I can’t believe this is even an issue. The bennies of breast-feeding are as much related to mother-child intimacy and bonding as to dollars-and-cents.

  10. Margaret says:

    Taking care of a baby is a lot of work. Breastfeeding is a lot of work (yes, some people have no problem, but if it isn’t easy-breezy for you, then it really takes a lot of work and effort). I was jealous of my cousin who used formula. How easy, I thought, anyone can feed the baby and you don’t have to find a private area to do it and how much more comfortable it would be to use a bottle. Turns out, she was just as jealous of me because she thought nursing looked so easy and no sterilizing bottles or making formula in the middle of the night. For all the moms struggling with this issue — do not beat yourself up if you choose one over the other. There will be enough things to feel guilty about over your child’s life. It is okay to make your own choice.

    Related to the formula thing — when my second was about 9 months, we switched to formula (only used it for emergencies with my first). At first, I only used the powdered kind (sign up for nestle baby and you will get at least one free can of formula, and sometimes you will get coupons for more free cans). But I sat down and calculated the cost per 4 oz serving, and — for my brand at least — the cost of powder and the cost of ready to serve was almost the same. Also, if you are formula feeding, you might want to see if your child will take the formula not warmed up when s/he is several months old. My mom baby sat for me about once a week starting when my son was about 4 months old. I would pump a bottle of milk for her to feed to him. Apparently, she never warmed it up — just gave it to him right out of the fridge. I was scandalized when I found out, but actually, it didn’t bother him. I ended up never warming up a bottle, although usually it was room temperature (either from the ready to serve can or from the water I used to mix the powder). I’ve seen someone refuse to give their desperate 11 month old child a drink from a bottle because she couldn’t get any hot water to warm up the room temperature bottle. Sometimes we forget that things don’t have to be perfect.

  11. sandra says:

    yes brestfeeding does save in the $$$ department when your low income but factoring Vit D , food for the house pluss extra for the family(spouse,kids) as well with a pump if needed (some moms are able to manual express) but in the begginning my LO started of brest milk in the bottle but the switch to full brestfeeding. I was one who could not pump enough to leave for My baby but there was plenty of milk for her I was lucky I had matt leave and had to swallow the extra 3 month early because my LO was premature. she does get sick not as much but recovers quickly. There is a down fall if your LO is not dirking EBM like you hope then you need to nurse frequently too and plan every activity and plan to nurse on public transit thanK the inventer for the hoddy. but for my situation it saved money and our total saving $3000.00 still continuing to this day. The loss in income has just started to out weigh staying home but the bond no $dollar amount can be compared. 1 st time mom nursing the 13 month old.

  12. Clare says:

    I breastfed my second son exclusively….I mean he had (only in first month) formula only about two cans total. I worked full time and pumped two times a day (in our supply closet!!!) I am probably the exception, but I produced enough to feed him ONLY breastmilk for one full year. He weaned himself when solids started and I estimate that I saved at least $1200. There to me was no extra expenditure for food. I ate the same amount and I had two pumps. One was from my sister and the other was awarded to me by the insurance company for failure of the baby to latch on. This was unknown to me so that saved a lot of money right there. If you are having any trouble with latching of the baby talk to your lactation consultant and see if they can arrange for a pump to be paid for by your insurance. This was at least a $300 savings for me and the handed down pump made it great as I had one at home and work!! breast feeding saves money but the most important thing is it’s health benefits….breast milk is a winner all around.

  13. Clare says:

    To add to my last comment, I also…giving all my milk to my son ( exlusive no formula… )working full time while pumping had so much milk that I was able to donate 6 gallons to a milk bank…it can be done…i really did it for health reasons but I loved saving all that money too.

  14. Sally says:

    I breastfed exclusively for 6 mo. I burned up 2 inexpensive pumps (about $60 each). They could NOT handle pumping as much as I needed to be at work. I invested in a $250 pump, and It was much faster, more comfortable, w/more acessories, making it better and more convienent all around. When she was 6 months old, we gave her ONLY 2 bottles per day of formula to ease things at work for me. This was the off-brand formula, and it cost $14.00/week! OUCH!
    When she was 11 mos. old, she was too active to sit still and nurse. Then, she only had formula and solid food. Since she was eating too, it wasn’t as expensive as if she was only on formula.
    **One thing to really consider is that breast milk is GOOD at room temp. for 8hrs, and in the fridge for about a week. Formula must be disposed of ONE HOUR after feeding has started, and only good in the fridge for 24 hrs. This is kind of scary when you think about it. What’s in there anyway?
    With my next baby, I will start pumping and freezing (deep freeze for up to 1yr)sooner so I can have a large reserve for busy times at work.

  15. Nikki says:

    Just an FYI— when you are talking about how much breastmilk versus formula a babies consumes in the first year of life—-

    Babies consume MORE formula than they would breastmilk. This is because the formula isn’t as nutritionally dense as breastmilk— so babies have to drink more to even more formula to get close to meeting their nutritional needs.

    It doesn’t really change your argument, just wanted to clarify.

  16. MilkMama says:

    My daughter is on year 2 of breastfeeding. WE never bought bottles or a pump or any extras. We saved a lot and we’re enjoying the health benefits! ;)

  17. Talena says:

    Oh my… when I was breastfeeding, I ate TWO of everything. If we went to the local coffee shop, I ate my usual scone, plus a slice of coffee cake. At dinner, I ate double the amount of meat I would normally consume. Not to mention the cost of the pump so dad or grandparents could feed baby on occasion. Loved breastfeeding, would absolutely do it again, but not because it saved us any money.

  18. Jane says:

    ok, i have to weigh in here: You’d need to also include the cost of gear: the bottles (nipples, liners, etc. depending what kind you use)the soap & water (perhaps energy if using dishwasher) to wash roughly 2920 bottles a year (8 x 365)and the cost of dr appts & antibiotics. Sure, there is individual variance, but formula babies are (on average) sick more, esp ear infections.

    But it’s the intangibles that are the best reason to breastfeed. Dare I say . . . PRICELESS!! :)

  19. dad says:

    When we switched to formula, we also wasted a lot…half filled bottles, etc, down the drain

  20. Lynn says:

    Come on. This can not be whittled down to cost. The bennies of breast feeding just doesn’t compare to bottle feeding. Breast fed all 4 of my children and would again in a heart beat. Consider t the lazy woman way of beating the tireds.

  21. Nicole says:

    Re: the extra food consumed… I considered that a benefit! I didn’t have to watch what I ate AND I didn’t have to think about dieting. I miss it. No extra expenditures on weight-watchers or going to a gym. No additional wardrobe expenditures since I went back to my pre-pregnancy weight almost immediately. Those were the days.

    Since we lived in a sunny climate we didn’t have to vitamin D supplement (and there’s some evidence that nobody needs to supplement as we understand bm more).

    Oh– and don’t forget the extra money saved drinking water instead of alcohol! Maybe not the best benefit, but good alcohol can get expensive.

  22. Heather says:

    I breastfed three babies exclusively. They started on solids when they were between 6-10 months. Went back to work with no. 1 and pumped. My eating habits did not change, but I did lose weight (not a bad thing!). Never during that time (of breast feeding exclusively) did I have to bring a sick child to the doctor . There is some savings there! I’ve also reduced my chances of certain cancers. Since this article totals up an approximate amount I’ve saved, I’d say a day at the spa may be in the cards for me!

  23. WOW! Thank you for sharing! I am so glad that I breastfed both of my children. I am still currently breastfeeding my almost one year old baby girl (on the 20th she will be 1)!!! We did though have to give my son soy formula for 5 months because he stopped nursing, weaned himself, and his little body couldn’t tolerate cow’s milk. Yes, we spent about $100 a month on soy formula. Talk about expensive. But you gotta do what cha gotta do when there isn’t too many other alternatives.

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