I’ve spent $2500 breastfeeding my daughter — and she’s only eight months old.
In the series finale of “Girls”, Lena Dunham tackled some real new mom struggles. Postpartum? Check. Breast feeding woes, complete with hands-free pumping bra, plus doctors and sanctimonious friends carrying on about the many benefits of mother’s milk? Check and check.
I was there. The bra. The pump. The looming dread of heading back to work with both of those things, plus the emotional stress of the whole new parent thing.
They don’t call it liquid gold for nothing. As Hannah learned, the expenses really add up, between the equipment, the bottles and the formula you need if your body doesn’t produce enough milk. And that doesn’t even factor in the emotional costs.
Like Hannah, I struggled to breastfeed at first, so I spent $200 on a lactation consultant, who sent me home with a list of things to buy including a nettle and raspberry leaf tea ($5) that was supposed to boost my milk supply. I also bought $40 worth of bottles as we struggled to find the right one, plus a Vitamin D supplement ($16) because the doctor said my breast milk did not provide every nutrient Cleo needs to thrive. If you want to breastfeed in public without exposing yourself to random strangers, you need special bras (I spent $79 on those) and nursing-friendly clothing ($150). Then there was the pump, my feeding frenemy. The one provided for free by our insurance company wasn’t strong enough, so I had to rent a hospital grade pump for $75 a month.
I was out of pocket $570 just in the first month. Meanwhile, formula and bottles would have cost me less than $200 for the month. Eight months in, I’m still paying to rent a pump, I still need vitamins, I occasionally buy pumping friendly clothes when the seasons change. All in, I’ve spent about $2500 on breastfeeding.
From the get-go, breastfeeding was a no-brainer to me: Cleo would get the health benefits from my milk, we’d bond while she was nursing and we wouldn’t have to spend any money on formula. (Also, I was not about to be shown up by my Irish Catholic mother, who successfully nursed four children.)
But, it’s just not right to tell women that it’s the free and cheap option: Even if you don’t spend a dime on any of the things that I did, “breastfeeding is definitely not free,” says Kathleen Rasmussen, a professor of Maternal and Child Nutrition: “The breastfeeding woman herself needs more food (about 500 kcal/day)” than someone who is just formula feeding.
Plus, there’s the significant amount of time breastfeeding — which can only be done by the mother, as opposed to formula feeding — takes. During the first month of her life, I spent roughly 84 hours a week breastfeeding Cleo. That’s time I couldn’t spend doing anything else (you try working or cleaning or doing anything other than staring into space with an infant attached to your chest). Breastfeeding takes longer than formula feeding, in part because breastfed babies eat more often and in part because formula feeding can be done by someone other than the mom. Either way, formula feeding would have taken me half the time of breastfeeding.
Some of the costs for breastfeeding taper off as the months go on – it becomes less time-consuming (though nearly always more time-consuming for mom that formula feeding) and once you get the hang of it, things like a lactation consultant and supply cookies become less necessary. But it’s never really free.
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