How Much Can Breastfeeding Save You? An Interview with Andi Silverman of “Mama Knows Breast”

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.

There’s actually a calculator on the website KellyMom.com that can show you how much you’ll save by not using 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?

Andi Silverman: Right! Breastfeeding can actually help you lose weight (breastfeeding is said to burn 500 calories a day). And most importantly, there are the health benefits of breastfeeding.

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.

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19 comments

  • Anna August 6, 2011, 5:56 pm

    Apart from formula costs I really do feel that medical expenses where a huge area of savings for me. I am fortunate to have a large, very close mum’s group (13 of us, 14 bubs) who have met 2+ times a week since birth. The flip side of having such a close group is the kids all tend to give each other whatever bug they have and there have been some awful ones in the past couple of years. I found it interesting that my daughter (the only breastfed one in later months) was often the only one who didn’t end up on antibiotics or in hospital with dehydration. From observation she wouldn’t seem to get colds as badly, they never developed into ear infections. Stomach upsets would be just as bad but she would be able to manage breastmilk (a lot gentler on the gut perhaps?) so wouldn’t have the dehydration or nutrition worries that others were having. So that would all translate to less doctors visits (actually, no doctors visits in 2 years apart from immunisations – my doctor keeps asking what my secret is). So that is a nice side effect I didn’t predict – less medical costs and less worry.

    Reply
  • Elizabeth August 6, 2011, 4:10 pm

    I love how breastfeeding has delayed my cycle. I don’t know how much it has saved me in feminine products but it has saved me in hassle, lol. Some people complain you have to buy nursing bras. Well, you’re probably going to wear a bra anyway, right? I just bought new nursing bras for only slightly more than I normally pay for regular bras so I don’t really count it as an extra cost. My biggest ongoing expense is breast pads and that is less than $10/month at the moment.

    Reply
  • Dannie August 6, 2011, 3:35 pm

    I like the article, but I wanted to clarify something in your post and I’m surprised that Kellymom (where I saw this link) didn’t notice either. It is NOT acceptable to share a SINGLE USER pump, the motor is not closed and CAN get bacteria in it from the previous user. I JUST wrote a post on this too so that why it’s fresh in my mind.
    My son is turning 1 next Saturday and he is still nursing, I think we have saved a ton of money. I buy nursing pads still and they are about $7/60 ct but they last me for a while. I received the 5 bottles I wanted for my baby shower, and the liners as well but we’ve only used them a handful of times. When he got sick he was 9 months old it lasted a day and a half, which I think is pretty quick to recover.

    Reply
  • Sloan August 6, 2011, 3:08 pm

    I breastfed each of my two children for several years. I never bought formula. I rarely used a pump, but when I did it was a hand pump that cost $40. Saving money was secondary, but I know I saved a ton of money by breastfeeding. I also think the boost to immunity saves money because they don’t get sick as much.

    Reply
  • Where are my Mary Janes? August 5, 2011, 12:14 am

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful information. I have benefited so much from breastfeeding, but even after feeding three children, I still have questions! Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
    • Amy August 6, 2011, 11:26 am

      Hi Janelle,

      Wonderful — I’m so glad you found this interview helpful. I know — I kept needing to read and ask questions and get support during my long nursing years.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment,
      Amy

      Reply
  • Prof. Kitty August 3, 2011, 1:40 pm

    In my state at least, moms who qualify income-wise can borrow a pump for free through the WIC (women, infants & children) program if baby is under 1. They provided me with a nice hospital-grade double-pump, and also provide the one-user equipment like tubing, shields, etc.

    Reply
    • Amy August 6, 2011, 1:01 pm

      Hey Prof. Kitty,

      Thanks for pointing out these wonderful state benefits. It’s worth it to ask about public programs, just in case you qualify.

      Take care,
      Amy

      Reply
    • Dannie August 6, 2011, 3:36 pm

      WIC will also give you a personal use pump. I received a Medela Pump Instyle from them.

      Reply
  • Daisy August 3, 2011, 6:27 am

    I didn’t chose to breastfeed to save money, but it was a welcome side effect. There are enough extra items going into the shopping cart with a new baby!

    Another thing that mothers might not consider is the environmental impact. For me, being frugal is linked to being environmentally concious. Both are about consumption. Breastfeeding is a green option when you consider there are no food miles and none of the pollution or waste associated with manufacturing and transporting cans of formula.

    Reply
    • Inder August 3, 2011, 11:01 am

      So true! Also, attractive, reusable packaging. Haha. :-)

      Reply
      • Daisy August 6, 2011, 1:56 am

        LOL!

        Reply
      • Amy August 6, 2011, 1:02 pm

        Sure! We could do a whole post on how breastfeeding is green. I like the attractive packaging part. :-)

        Reply
  • Inder August 2, 2011, 10:34 pm

    I’ve really enjoyed breastfeeding my little boy … which is why I’m still breastfeeding him at 2! At this point, the savings isn’t as significant, but it’s such a convenient way to mother: Kid’s upset? Whip out a boob! Problem solved!

    One side issue: If you use a borrowed or hand-me-down pump, it invalidates the warranties. They are single-use items, and it’s not recommended that you share. They also do wear out over time, so for a mom who is going back to work and needs to keep her supply up, I’d probably recommend getting a new one. I actually DID use a hand-me-down from a friend because I’m way cheap, and was really struggling with it by the end of a year. For something you’re going to spend that much time with in intimate contact, I think you deserve the best that money can buy. That $400 is still a great savings compared to formula. (The rentals are a GREAT option, and are not “single-user”; however, they are bulky to carry to and from work.)

    Anyway, I love that you address this, and I love the nonjudgmental approach. Obviously, not everyone can breastfeed successfully. At the same time, those of us who breastfeed past one sometimes get some weird looks too. We all just need to work on being SUPPORTIVE of new moms, whatever they choose. There’s so much judgment out there.

    Reply
    • Amy August 2, 2011, 10:54 pm

      Hi Inder,

      Nice to hear from you — and thanks for the tip about pump warranties.

      I’m sorry about the critical looks. Extended breastfeeding is the norm in some countries, but clearly not ours. I agree — supportiveness is what we all need.

      Thanks for supporting me and my blog by commenting!

      Sincerely,
      Amy

      Reply
  • Jen @ Jen Spends August 2, 2011, 9:45 pm

    I’ll have to remember this book if/when I get to baby #2 – I’m always on the lookout for good reference material. I’ve found that some people are touchy about making the connection between economy and breastfeeding, but I think it’s a valid consideration. Saving money wasn’t the reason I wanted to breastfeed, but it was definitely something I thought about a lot…so much so, that I rather counted on it when I was crunching the numbers to determine whether I could afford to stay at home. In our case it just didn’t pan out. Not only did we end up needing to buy formula, but we had to get the hypoallergenic stuff. We spent a fortune that we weren’t really prepared for. I’m hoping to have another shot at it, eventually. It’s nice when taking the more nutritious route is also the less expensive way–that doesn’t seem to happen often!

    Reply
    • Amy August 2, 2011, 10:58 pm

      Hi Jen,

      You’re right — nutritious is often not cheap (or appealing), but breastfeeding is a win-win-win. That is, if it works. It’s frustrating to hear of so many women and babies that aren’t able to connect in this way, when they want to.

      I hope you will look up Andi’s book — or follow her advice about finding a lactation consultant. I’ve consulted them a few times through La Leche League (which is all volunteer) and have always been so relieved and felt very supported.

      Thanks for writing in,
      Amy

      Reply

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