Is Breastfeeding Really Much More Cost-Effective Than Formula Feeding?

Is the cost of breastfeeding v. formula really that much cheaper? Check out our thoughts on the costs of both and weigh in with your opinion!

Before you decide to breastfeed because ‘it’s free’ or choose not to formula feed because ‘it is too expensive, read my thoughts here on the cost of breastfeeding versus the cost of formula feeding.  Surprisingly enough, there is a cost to both!  While the actual breastmilk is free, there are other costs associated with nursing your tiny human.  Keep reading to find out more!

Related: Breastfeeding versus Formula Feeding: The Pros and Cons of Each

The Cost of Breastfeeding v. Formula*

Breastfeeding Needs

Tanks and bras: If you are breastfeeding, you will soon learn how essential these items are.  A simple clip and your breast is exposed for feeding.  When it comes to a midnight feeding, or you find yourself out and about with a hungry baby, you will be thankful you are wearing these!  Can you do without?  Sure, but why make it more difficult?   

Pregnancy pillow: This is that C-shaped pregnancy pillow you probably got at your baby shower.  Confession: I had no idea how to use this when I got one with my first child so make sure to read this article on how to use a pregnancy pillow.  At first, nursing may be difficult.  You have to learn which position your baby likes best, which may not be as comfortable for you.  It is all a learning curve.  The nursing pillow is going to help take away some of the awkwardness of holding your baby in a certain position, and help to prop him up to where he needs to be.

Pump: Even if you are dead set on exclusively breastfeeding, you will want to have a pump.  Your milk is going to be like gold.  You will want to have some stocked and on hand in her freezer for whatever may arise.  My suggestion is to not go cheapo on a breast pump.  The good news is that many insurance companies will cover the cost of this now!

Lactation consultant: While in the hospital, you have access to her free of charge.  This might not be long enough for you, as many women leave the hospital after a couple of days.  Your hospital may allow you to still access her after you are gone, but that is usually for phone call questions.  If you are in need of some hands-on one-on-one help, you might want to look into whether your insurance covers this.  If not, you might be looking at $100 a visit.  Obviously rates vary.

Doc visits: You might find yourself scheduling an appointment if you have a clogged duct or an infection.  These are both normal and common when it comes to breastfeeding, but a doctor’s visit more than likely has a co-pay, not to mention any meds you might need also may have a co-pay.

Formula Costs

Bottles: These babies are not cheap!  I recently purchased a pack of new bottles.  It was a pack of 3, 6 ounce bottles which cost me about $15.  Now unless you want to be constantly washing bottles, you will need more than 3.  Right now I have 6, and it wouldn’t hurt to have a couple more.  Be sure when you purchase the bottles you get the right size nipple.  They come in slow, medium and fast.  When your baby outgrows slow, you don’t have to purchase new bottles, you can typically purchase just the nipples, but those are not cheap either!

Formula: A small can runs between $15-$20 depending on the brand.  A small can probably will not get you through a week.  Your baby is going to eat more than you might be anticipating!

Water: I found this to be a touchy subject when I asked around before I had my son.  Some people have water that is clean enough for bathing and cooking but not for consuming.  Also, you might just prefer to give your baby bottled water rather than tap.  A gallon of ‘baby water’ is about $1.  You could always use a filter system as well, but that doesn’t make the water you use for bottles free.

Warmer: This is completely optional, and one that I opted out of, twice.  A bottle warmer does just that, it warms bottles safely.  Here was my train of thought on bottle warmers when it came to my kids.  What if I am out and about and my baby is hungry but I don’t have a way to warm his bottle and he won’t drink it any other way because I have spoiled him with a warm bottle (just my opinion, I don’t think babies can be spoiled).  What if it is the middle of the night and all I want to do is roll over, prepare his bottle and feed him, but nope, now I have to get up, go to the bottle warmer and warm it.  Or what if the power goes out?  Totally up to you.  (By the way, I have the same opinion on wipe warmers).

Babies are expensive, regardless of how you choose to feed them.  Some choose to breastfeed because it is ‘less expensive’ but it is all relative.  If you choose to formula feed, now might be the time to start couponing if you don’t already!  When you sign up for baby sites online and in store, you will get coupons in the mail.  I know once a month in the mail I get anywhere from $5-$10 off the formula I feed my son.

*The costs associated with breastfeeding on based on our experiences as well as those of friends we surveyed. Not everyone will encounter the same costs.

What are your thoughts on the cost of breastfeeding versus the cost of formula feeding?  Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comment section below!


9 thoughts on “Is Breastfeeding Really Much More Cost-Effective Than Formula Feeding?”

  1. Like others have chimed in, I breastfed for over 2 years without any added costs to speak of (chances are, your boobs are differently sized after baby so you’ll be buying bras regardless of whether they are nursing bras or ‘regular’ ones, and you certainly don’t *need* items specifically branded for nursing, as many folks do just fine with regular tanks, or hentley style tops).

    a specific pillow is really not required.

    I actually bought a pump having read articles like these telling me it was a “must have”, when in fact I used it all of two or three times total, and our kiddo never did drink it from a bottle (she just wasn’t interested in a boob substitute, lol!)

    I never needed to visit a doctor for breastfeeding support, and after I had my baby, a lactation consultant actually visited to ask if I had questions, of if she could help with anything, as did more than 1 nurse & my midwife. While we did not require additional assistance, in my community there are loads of resources, from Parent helplines, to regional, and community based programs, and LLL, There is no shortage of folks out there wanting to help you be successful however you choose to feed your baby, one need just ask!

    If you hope to breastfeed (or at least hope to *try*), for whatever reason, do not be swayed by lists telling you it’s hard, it’s costly because you *need* a bunch of gear or whatever else.
    There’s a learning curve – because one of you is a BRAND NEW human being and the other is a brand new mother (or trying to BF for the first time). We ALL have a “learning curve” whenever we do something we’ve not done before.

  2. speaking from a different view, my mother has told me many times that she was NOT able to breastfeed me when i was a baby – she said that i was allergic to regular breast milk

  3. The expenses you listed in regards to breastfeeding were not my experience at all.

    First of all.. nursing bras and regular bras all cost money.

    Second of all.. the “pregnancy pillow” (Boppy) was a shower gift and therefore, free.

    Third… my baby could not nurse from any known rubber nipple, so a pump wasn’t needed.

    Fourth.. I never used a lactation consultant. Ever.

    Fifth… I never required even one doctor appointment that was breastfeeding-related.

    Some women may have need of some of the above.. but not all women will. Generalizing these costs for all women is misleading.

    1. Hi Morgan! Thank you for your input! I did add a note to the article that these costs are based on our writer’s experiences as well as those of friends and family, and that not all women will encounter the same costs.

  4. I’m sorry, but this was one of the most ridiculous misleading articles I have ever read.

    #1. Many good quality nursing bras are comparable in price to regular bras. But in all actuality wearing a bra, nursing or not is an elective decision and is not an actual requirement. Similarly, nursing tanks are also optional items, but far from essential. If anything, I have found nursing tanks to be far less convenient than a regular stretchy tank.

    #2. Having worked in the field, I have found over and over again that more often than not breast feeding pillows, or any pillows for that matter can be very detrimental to the establishment of breast feeding. Unless the pillow is incredibly flat, the added elevation often places baby in a less than optimal position which often results in latch and pain issues. Eliminate the pillow and you will subsequently reduce the need for #4. the lactation consultant. And since we’re there, though I hate to put myself out of a job, within our country there are numerous good and free resources available to nursing women that have been established to help women overcome any breast feeding hurdles they may face should they not be able to afford the guidance of a lactation consultant.

    Backtracking to #3, there is really no reason for a pump to be necessity. Manual expression can work just fine in most situations. And it’s free.

    Fast forward to #5. You included the potential health ailments that can effect breast feeding, but you failed to mention that formula feeding is also associated with increased trips to the doc. After all., formula fed babies are statistically more likely to suffer from eat infections and require surgery for ear tubes. They are more likely develop allergies and eczema. They are more likely to develop diabetes. They are more likely to develop childhood cancer. They are more likely to become obese adults which is also linked to numerous other health ailments.

    So while you listed all of the possible costs of breast feeding, it is very important to note that it’s very possible to breastfeed a child without encountering any of those expenses. Breastfeeding a child for free is really not as much of a rarity as you seem to have led yourself to believe.

  5. Interesting post! I always just assumed that breastfeeding was cheaper and never considered the actual costs! Something to think about for sure!

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