How Much Money Does Breastfeeding Really Save?

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.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.