Sometimes you do things to save money and then you realize they’ve made your life better. Other times you do things to make your life better, and you realize they’re saving you money. Breastfeeding would probably fall into this second category.
You do it because you think it’s the best for yourself and your baby, then you’re even more psyched when you realize how much it’s saving you, which reinforces your decision.
I know that not everyone is able, or willing, to nurse their children. This is not a judgmental article. I think you will really enjoy Andi Silverman’s all-inclusive approach to the topic, whatever your situation.
I personally nursed my children for about twelve months each. (Which might explain why I was deluded into thinking kids don’t cost much!) Sure, you need a few nursing bras (I’ve actually received several from friends), and possibly a pump, if you want back-up milk or you plan to work. (Hand pumps cost all of $30, and a study just came out saying that women who used hand pumps were more likely to breastfeed longer.)
But how much can nursing your child actually save you?
In honor of Breastfeeding Week (August 1-6), I spoke with Andi Silverman, author of Mama Knows Breast: A Beginner’s Guide to Breastfeeding, about the economic aspects of nursing. (I had known Andi in the online world, and then we ran into each other at our college reunion.) For our interview, she spoke to me over the phone from her home outside New York City, which she shares with her husband and two children.
Frugal Mama: Hi Andi! I’m not sure why I haven’t covered breastfeeding on Frugal Mama, because if you are raising a family and trying to save money, breastfeeding is a perfect start. Let’s talk about the economic benefits.
Andi Silverman: I think it’s funny that a lot of people don’t even think about the economic benefits. It’s more of an afterthought. Most people are thinking, “How am I going to feed my baby? What is the best, most nutritious way, and what would work for my lifestyle?”
And then, if they’re using formula, they might realize, “Oh, this is costing me a lot of money!” Or if they’re breastfeeding, they might say, “Wow. I’m saving a lot by not having to buy formula, and bottles.” So saving money can be a motivating factor for breastfeeding, but I don’t think it’s the thing that gets people to breastfeed.
Frugal Mama: I agree. But it is a nice side benefit.
Andi Silverman: Yes, it is a nice side benefit. When you have a baby, all of sudden things can get very overwhelming. You’re buying so much stuff. Stroller. Crib. Mattress, sheets. Maybe you redecorate the baby’s room. And then the clothes. And then the diapers and toys! It’s unbelievable how those costs pile up.
So one way to cut down on those expenses is to breastfeed. You don’t have to buy bottles. You don’t have to buy formula. And formula can get very, very expensive. Breast milk is like nature’s gift to a new mom and baby.
Frugal Mama: How much do you think women save by breastfeeding?
Andi Silverman: There have been a lot of different estimates on the cost of formula. I’ve seen figures that range anywhere from saving $1,000 a year to $3,000 a year. Of course it depends on the brand and the type of formula.
Frugal Mama: I know there are costs also associated with breastfeeding.
Andi Silverman: Yes, of course you’ll need a couple nursing bras and perhaps a pump, but those are one-time costs.
If you want a fancy double pump — that can get pricey. But there are ways around that as well. It’s possible to rent pumps. Sometimes people will share a pump that a friend or family member has used. In that case, the guts of the pump are fine but you would probably want to get new plastic pieces so they are clean and sterilized.
There are also other ways to offset costs. Some insurance companies will cover the cost of the pump, and you might even be able to get a tax break from the IRS if you have a flexible spending account.
Frugal Mama: Talking about secondary economic benefits. What about the money saved on gym memberships?
For the mom, there is a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers, Type 2 diabetes and post-partum depression. And for babies, there is a reduced risk of certain illnesses and respiratory infections, and long-term protection against some diseases.
In fact, there was a study last year, I think, that estimated if 90% of the mothers in the U.S. breastfed for six months, then the U.S. could save approximately 900 lives and about $13 billion in health care costs annually.
Frugal Mama: That’s amazing.
Andi Silverman: It is amazing. And the recommendations to breastfeed are there. The American Academy of Pediatrics is very clear about this. They recommend breastmilk — no formula, no solid foods, no water, no juice — for the first six months. So exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. Then introduce solids after that, but continue breastfeeding at least for 12 months. And the World Health Organization actually recommends breastfeeding for two years.
Frugal Mama: So what do you say to women who, as much as they try, are not able to feed their babies or, for whatever reason, do not want to breastfeed their babies?
Andi Silverman: I think the most important thing is that you are a good parent and a good mom. You know, there are so many ways we all parent and take care of our kids and there is no one right way to do things. And what works well for one person may not work well at all for another person. So you really can’t be critical of people’s choices. And we are fortunate that we live in a developed country where not breastfeeding is not a difference between life and death.
It’s important to support new moms in whatever choices they make and give them a lot of encouragement. If they are breastfeeding, help them feel comfortable and give them the support they need. If they are not breastfeeding, support that choice too.
New moms just need help. It’s exhausting having a newborn, then a baby, and then a toddler, and sometimes it can feel be pretty relentless. So I think any support from friends and family is really important.
Frugal Mama: I really like your all-inclusive and non-judgemental approach because, like you say, it can be hard no matter what you do, and we all need to help each other. Where can moms go who need more information about breastfeeding? I know your book and website are great resources.
Andi Silverman: Online, KellyMom has great information. If you want to find a local support group, there’s always La Leche League. Most importantly, find a lactation consultant. Call your pediatrician or local hospital to get a recommendation.
Frugal Mama: Thank you so much, Andi, for offering your expertise, as well as your comforting perspective.
Andi Silverman is the author of Mama Knows Breast: A Beginner’s Guide to Breastfeeding (Quirk Books 2007). She is also a digital marketing consultant for Nosy Crow, a children’s book and app publisher. She blogs about breastfeeding at www.mamaknowsbreast.com and giggle, and can be found on Twitter @AndiSilverman.