The Hidden Costs of Breastfeeding

Before my daughter was born, I knew I wanted to try breastfeeding for all the usual reasons: breast milk is nutritionally perfect for a newborn and helps promote bonding between mother and child.  I’ve got to admit, though, that a big motivation was the idea that it was free!   For that reason alone, I’m glad that breastfeeding ended up working out for us.

A couple days ago I became aware of something I’d never thought about before: the hidden costs of breastfeeding.  Now, breastfeeding is generally much cheaper than formula, which can set parents back $1000 to $2300 in baby’s first year–but it isn’t exactly free.   Working mothers may need to pay for a breast pump and bottles out of pocket if insurance doesn’t cover it, which can cost hundreds of dollars.  My hospital had lactation consultants that were paid for by the county, but some women spend upwards of $1000 for lactation consultants if they’re having trouble with their supply or the baby’s latch.

Then there’s the food.  A breastfeeding woman needs to add 500 calories to her diet to keep up a good supply.  How much do 500 calories cost?  Well, a huge five-ounce serving of plain pasta costs $.31. At about $1 a pound, that’s one of the cheapest foods around.   If you supplement your diet with 500 calories of pasta every day for a year, you’ll pay  $114 more on food that year.  Not bad–except who wants to eat that much pasta?  (Me.  Maybe.)  Adding 500 calories of lean proteins and organic vegetables to your diet will end up costing much more.

I know exactly how I got those extra calories while I was breastfeeding: lattes and pastries.  Practically every day I would stroll on down to the coffee shop for a coffee drink made with whole milk and some little treat to tide me over.  While I should have been eating salads and whole grains, I craved carbs, sugar, and butter!  Moreover, I craved the little bit of social interaction my coffee shop jaunts provided.  Okay, so let’s say I spent an average of $3 a day on coffee and pastries–that’s $1095 on food I needed to nurse my baby.  The amount is staggering, especially considering how proud I was to spend under $800 on baby gear, including diapering costs!

So what are some ways to defray the hidden costs of breastfeeding?  Here are some ideas:

1. Check with your insurance company to see what kinds of benefits you may be eligible for as a nursing mother.  Also, look around for free breastfeeding resources.  Kelly Mom has great information online, and La Leche League holds meetings all over the world.

2. Ask your hospital or birthing center if they rent breast pumps, which may be cheaper than buying one yourself.  Joy borrowed an electric pump from family members and bought her own tubing.

3. As for the added calories you’ll need as a nursing mother, just being mindful of the extra expense can help you budget for the food and nutrients you need. I could have easily baked my own treats and limited my coffee shop expenditures. Even better, I could have tried to keep more cheap and nutritious snacks around (like wholegrain toast, carrot sticks, or homemade muffins) so I didn’t resort to pastries in the first place.

Now that I’m aware of the hidden costs of breastfeeding, I feel fortunate for the nursing support I received as a new mom.  Also, I can’t really complain about needing  to eat an extra 500 calories a day.  Ah, how I miss the days of lattes and pastries!


  1. I wasn’t able to breastfeed for more than three months with my daughter. She had MSPI and reflux. Not a fun mix but when we went to the $30 can of formula for 2-3 days worth of food (i know outrageous) she was 100 times better and different baby. I have no learned I can pretty much cut out most of the foods I would eat and breastfeed our next baby. Hoping no issues with MSPI. The cost is outrageous with formula. Good thing is I do have a breastpump and a new stock of born free bottles so even with breastfeeding those big expenses are out of the way.

  2. Don’t forget bras, pads, Lansinoh and a pillow! I just took a BF class in anticipation of baby #2’s arrival. We have a fabulous (nonprofit) center in our area that offers free clinics including a weekly drop-in session. But buying all that stuff? I both hate to think of it, and hate to be without it if I’m trying to feed a fussy, hungry newborn at 3 a.m. Which was basically the message of the class – you might not need it, but if it helps, why not?

    And let’s not even talk about Hooter Hiders. Surely I don’t need a glorified $35 apron to feed my kid in public … or do I?

  3. As with all things, breastfeeding is an investment. I committed to pumping for my kids the first year of life. Why? Because it lowers the risk of allergies, diabetes and obesity. We’ve only just begun to understand the positive developmental benefits. Isn’t that worth a few hundred for a pump, bottles and washable nursing pads?

  4. LOL! I didn’t exactly eat the best foods while breastfeeding, either. It was a lot of work, but I’m so glad I did it.

  5. In terms of insurance, we needed a “prescription” from our doctor saying that the breastpump was “medically necessary” in order to get it covered by insurance. A nice person at the insurance company told us the right key phrase to use, and our doctor was happy to oblige (I think she said something like, “Of course feeding the baby is medically necessary!”)

    I also had a breast abcess which added to the expenses (many doctor copays, several antibiotics and treatment for the inevitable yeast infection, and an emergency room copay) and I used the mother of all nipple creams (APNO,) which was pricey but worth every single penny — it healed up a painful tear I had in no time flat. But even so I still think it comes in cheaper than formula.

  6. Oh, you mean that lattes and pastry aren’t the recommended extra 500 calories. Hum, who knew!

    A friend told me when my first was born to pump at the hospital b/c they give you the tubes and whatever else is removable from the pump and I guess insurance covers it. You can then use it with your pump (of course if it’s the same brand – Medela). I wasn’t working and wasn’t planning on pumping so I didn’t do that but it is an option.

  7. I received my Born free bottle supplies off my registry but then decided that i wouldn’t need it because i would be home with the baby. Two days after his birth we were making a panicky trip to BRU to by a pump, shields lanolin and bottles. I was so engorged and needed help. Now almost 4 months in, their all collecting dust on the shelf. Boppy may not be a “need” but it sure is nice to have and makes things a lot easier then trying to prop up multiple pillows. I wish i had a hooter hider but can’t get my self to fork over the money for one. My little man likes to grab the blanket covering us and pulls off more when were in public. And trust me, i’ve been baking my way through every yummy bakery display item that makes my stomach growl. I’ve been craving one of those $4 cupcakes from whole foods but keep telling my self that its not worth it. The only problem is finding the time to cook at home, i’m usually left waiting until baby is sleeping at night so i can get busy in the kitchen.

  8. Going Green Mama, I don’t mean to say it isn’t worth it! I just can’t help feel that even this natural, simple process is complicated by a wealth of consumer goods, all designed to solve problems I’m not sure I’ll have.

    Jillian, I suspect I’ll be going your route – making the crazed trip to BRU for everything I was sure I could do without, newborn babe in arms. 🙂

  9. I can’t believe I forgot to mention bras, pads, creams, nursing pillows, “hooter hiders,” medical co-pays, and $4 muffins from Whole Foods! (Jillian, I think I would have given in and bought the muffin a long time ago. As you can see from this post, I am not exactly frugal-minded when it comes to lattes and pastries. Remember that they are “for the baby.” And medically necessary!)

    It’s interesting to hear of everyone’s experiences with insurance and breast pumps. I got one for free at the hospital, but I think that was paid for by the county. They were very committed to helping nursing mothers where I gave birth. I can see how many women without these resources might give up on breast feeding or never start at all.

    Fern, your last comment sums it all up nicely. I actually think it’s a good thing, though, to point out that breast feeding might not necessarily be all that easy, natural, or free. That way women can be prepared for tackling problems if they do arise, and they’ll have the resources to solve those problems.

  10. Dear mommies,

    Well, well… I, too, feel like carbs and carbs (pastries, latte, chai latte, chocolate milk, cookies, anything goes). But I don’t count that as the extra 500 calories “for the baby”. It’s a treat for me.. And I buy my muffins at about $1/piece at my gorcery store, make my own coffees and teas and so on.. Starbucks and other places alike are outrageously priced – so I’m leaving those trips for “special occasions”. Quite a saving right there.
    In terms of the breastpump – I live in Canada.. Had an opportunity to use Medela free of charge at the hospital with my first one; bought a simple manual Medela pump (Harmony) for about $40 afterwards.. AND BREASTFED MY DAUGHTER FOR 15 MONTHS which I’m still very proud of.
    Now with my second baby I’m not pumping yet – but this time the pump comes free of charge… sitting in my basement.
    Good luck to all breastfeeding moms – IT’S THE ABSOLUTE BEST YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR CHILD’S HEALTHY START! :o)

  11. Alex, I was wondering what it was like for breastfeeding mothers in places like Canada. Did you also have a long maternity leave? That can also make a huge difference. I really admire people like Going Green Mama who pump for a whole year (I assume while at the office). As for me, I worked part time and therefore pumped part time. I used a manual pump, too–the free one I got at the hospital.

    Also, you bring up a good point about subsequent children. All that gear can be reused for the next child. My cousin is using my nursing pillow now! That was one of those things I rushed out to buy in a bleary-eyed panic. I did use it but probably could have lived without it!

  12. I definitely think you can live without all the paraphernalia except for the breastpump if you work and both times I got one for free. The first time my mom happened across a hospital grade lactina which was being given away to a charity she work ed for but they weren’t allowed to use it. I only had to purchase the tubing. Stupidly I thought I was all done and got rid of it. I also think it wasn’t as cute as other people’s breastpumps. But then the second time a friend was done with her Medela. I know they SAY two peoploe shouldn’t use it, but it was a friend and I could verify she didn’t have AIDS or anything and I honestly didn’t see how the milk was going to be contaminated if I was paying ANY attention at all. So I never had to buy a breastpump and got top of the line on both pregnancies.

    I always used the cheap gerber bottles which my babies preferred. I felt so vindicated when it was the EXPENSIVE avent bottles and such that contained BPA. My cheap-o ones were totally safe. I did have a boppy, but I rarely used it because I preferred to just adjust some bed pillows exactly how I wanted them. I DEFINITELY needed the baby supported and raised, but it worked better with regular pillows.

    And the extra food? Now that was a gift to be able to eat extra calories and STILL lose weight. I’m sure I wouldn’t have spent less on groceries had I not been nursing.

    I also just used regular bras and would discreetly unsnap it in back and slide my boob out, then snap it back up in back when I was done. I never felt like I revealed more than a woman who used nursing bras nor was it less convenient. I did buy nursing bras, but if I did it again, I wouldn’t because I never found a nursing bra that supported my (at the time) DDD’s comfortably enough. I did have some nice terry-cloth/microfiber nursing pads, but I think I paid around $10 for those and they were washable. I even passed them on to my cousin.

    I guess I would say that I did the nursing for pretty cheap, could have done it cheaper. I only got to nurse each kid for 6 months and 8 months because once I went back to work, my milk supply couldn’t keep up. I just didn’t have enough time to pump during the day. When I had to start buying formula, it cost $80-$100 a month plus needed more bottles. Definitely WA\Y more expensive than nursing could ever hope to be. Your 500 extra calories could be caviar for that price.=)

  13. Looks like you’ve been up to some awesome blogging – I have a lot of catching up to do!

  14. Mommas need to eat a lot of nutritious food, both for them and their babies.

  15. Fern – I agree – there is a lot of marketing involved. How many generations of women lived without a Boppy?

    That being said, we don’t have the maternal support to help women with breastfeeding anymore. The support network of women who have been there just isn’t there on a daily basis, hence we are turning to experts and technology to help us limp along through the process.

    For me, I gave up breastfeeding “normally” after 3 weeks of screaming from my daughter, who would never latch, and 4 weeks with my son, who tried and only got it right half the time. (His weight gain was at risk, so we had to do something.)

    As I was going back to the office soon anyway (where it’s easier than at home!) I opted to pump exclusively. Crazy, sure. But I had the supplies, and it’s so much better for the kids. My daughter had rare ear infections and my son has so far been extremely healthy. I just wish I would have seen the calorie burning effects! LOL

  16. When my baby (now almost 4 mos) was born, a couple of my friends told me not to waste money on nursing bras because you just end up trashing them. So I went out and bought 2 cheapies and suffered! Then I found out that these friends only nursed for 3-4 months. Since I plan to nurse for at least a year, I “invested” in 2 fabulously comfortable, albeit spendy bras. My girls and I are so happy now. Those bras are worth every darn penny.

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