The economics of breastfeeding

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that mothers breastfeed exclusively for at least 6 months, with breastfeeding then combined with complementary foods until at least 12 months of age and continued for as long as both mother and baby desire.

The choice to breastfeed is more than a matter of health and nutrition—it can affect a family’s finances as well. A review of equipment and supplies needed shows that opting for breast milk over formula could save individual families at least $1,300 a year. 

The balance sheet on breastfeeding versus formula feeding

For the most part, nature provides all that a woman needs to breastfeed. But women who work outside the home or prefer more flexibility may choose to buy a breast pump. With that cost included, here’s a breakdown of the cost of breastfeeding versus formula feeding for a year, using average prices for the wide range of products associated with each.

Costs associated with breastfeeding for 1 year

Breastfeeding SuppliesCost 
Double electric breast pump
Milk storage containers
6 glass or BPA-free plastic baby bottles

Boppy pillow
Nursing bras (2) 
Nursing ointment 
Reusable nursing pads$20
Grand Total:

*Many health insurance companies will cover the cost to rent or purchase an electric breast pump so be sure to check your coverage before your baby arrives.

Costs associated with formula feeding for 1 year**

Formula Feeding SuppliesDaily CostAnnual Cost
Ready to feed formula$7.84 
Concentrated formula (add water)$5.38 
Powdered formula (add water)$4.40 
6 glass or BPA-free plastic baby bottlesn/a
Subtotal Ready to Feed Formula
Subtotal Concentrated Formula
Subtotal Powdered Formula

Bottle drying rackn/a
Bottle warmern/a
Microwave sterilizern/a
Grand Total Ready Feed Formula
Grand Total Concentrated Formula
Grand Total Powdered Formula

The bottom line: Breastfeeding can save families between about $1,300 and $2,600 the first year.

Other factors to weigh

 Formula feeding costs could be even higher than those noted above. They increase by $480 to $860 if parents choose organic formula, which on average costs about 30 percent more than conventional formulas.

And babies with specific health needs or allergies may require hypoallergenic, lactose-free, or soy-based formulas. Premature infants may also require formula specifically designed for low birth-weight babies. In these cases, the costs associated with formula feeding also would increase considerably. 

On the flip side, the costs noted above don’t take into account possible higher food bills for mothers who breastfeed. Nursing mothers burn more calories. Some may welcome that as an opportunity to lose weight gained during pregnancy. But those who don’t could see somewhat higher food costs, so that the cost savings of $1,300 to $2,600 per year may be reduced to $600 to $1,900,*** still a significant savings.

The bottom line. The figures above capture only the direct costs associated with breastfeeding and formula feeding. But exclusively breastfed infants have fewer illnesses compared with formula-fed infants, which also means less money spent on doctor visits and medications, and less time that parents lose from work when their child is sick.

The health and nutritional benefits of breastfeeding alone are reason enough to breastfeed. But don’t ignore the fact that breastfeeding keeps money in your pocket. 

**Based on an average daily, cow’s-milk-based formula (the most commonly used formula) intake of 28 ounces per day. (Babies younger than 6 months may consume a few ounces less, while babies older than 6 months may consume several ounces more.)

***Based on an estimate of $8.33 per day for the average American’s food budget, and an estimate of around 2,000 calories consumed per day for the average American, yielding about $2 per day needed to cover the additional 500 calories consumed by a breastfeeding woman.

Last updated December 29, 2021

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