Being a mom is tough. It’s full of the immense responsibility of nurturing a brand new human from Day 1 through at least day 6,573. Of the many choices foisted upon new moms, one is breast milk or formula? That decision is fraught with complications, including the ease of breastfeeding, the availability and affordability of a lactation consultant, the mother’s paid time off, future work schedule, employer accommodation for pumping milk, and familial and cultural support. It’s a decision with enough pressure already, and I don’t want to suggest breastfeeding is the absolute only choice in every circumstance. Indeed, my own children were not all exclusively breastfed due to some of the circumstances above. I wasn’t breastfed. Kids will thrive if they have your love, food, shelter, and education. But there is an economic case for choosing breastfeeding on a personal level, and encouraging employers and legislators to remove some of the impediments to its widespread adoption on a general level. This post examines some of the personal economic benefits of choosing (or having the freedom to choose) breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is Cheaper!
Formula is an enormous tax on a budget. Instead of just ramping up mom’s calories by a few hundred a day in the food she’s already eating at cost of a maybe a few dollars a week, formula requires paying a minimum of $20–$30 per can of large formula per week. If baby has allergies or a sensitive stomach, more expensive kinds can cost more than $50 per week. And if you choose to buy breast milk (yes, that’s a thing) you might spend as much as $1,050 per week, or a mind boggling $54,600 per year.
If you were to save the costs of just the food and invest those savings, assuming a year of purchased food feeding, here’s how much richer you would be after 18 years (i.e., when baby is getting ready for college!):
But that’s just the cost of the food! All the bottles and sanitation equipment you need to use formula will easily cost $200 or more. And then you have to take the time to clean all of that stuff religiously. True, working moms may need a breast pump and some of the same equipment. But thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurers are now required to cover 100% of the cost of a breast pump and breastfeeding counseling and support for the duration of breastfeeding. I sure wish both of those benefits had been around when our son was born—we paid out of pocket for both.
Not only is breastfeeding cheaper, it also lets both parents get a heck of a lot more sleep. Why? It is way easier in the middle of the night to roll over and pull out a boob and instantly serve up perfectly warmed baby food than it is to get out of bed while you are half awake, heat up formula to the right temperature, sit in a chair while baby eats, clean up the bottle so you’re ready to do it again in two hours, and then get back in bed. Several times a night. Though spouses probably get the greater share of this benefit, one more rested parent has much more capacity to help out than two totally sleep deprived parents.
If you’re not down with co-sleeping (despite its scientifically backed power to improve sleep, reduce the risk of SIDS, and reduce crying in the night), it’s still easier to get out of bed, grab baby, and start breastfeeding than it is to go through the rigmarole above. And when parents have more sleep—heck, when anyone has more sleep—it is way easier to maintain a positive attitude and see abundance everywhere. More sleep also leads to systematically better health for everyone. Speaking of which…
Breastmilk also provides the perfect balance of nutrients for baby. And getting the perfect, hand tailored meal that changes dynamically with baby’s needs leads to phenomenally better health in both the short and long term. Breastfed babies have lower rates of diarrhea, ear infections, and stomach problems. They are also less likely to suffer from asthma, diabetes, and childhood obesity. And breastfeeding is good for moms, too—the hormones released during breastfeeding help the mother’s body recover from pregnancy and birth more rapidly, and reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. In other words, breastfeeding is good for the health of the whole family.
And good health for mom and her kids has a strong connection to future wealth. Substantially reducing the risk of disease also reduces the expected future cost of health care for mother and baby. Healthy moms, and later their kids, are more productive workers who tend to earn more.
All told, breastfeeding has a pretty amazing ability to improve your finances in both the short and the long term, and also to improve the finances for your kids. So spouses (and employers!), support nursing moms—it’s good for your bottom line any way you cut it.