by Mary Elizabeth Dallas
March 20, 2011
There is no shortage of medical experts or studies touting the nutritional and health benefits of breast milk (click here to read how breastfeeding benefits both mothers and babies). It’s well documented that in addition to containing all the vitamins and nutrients your baby needs in the first 6 months of life, breast milk helps protect your baby from a long list of chronic and acute illnesses, including ear infections, diarrhea, pneumonia, diabetes, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Despite these proven health benefits, rates of exclusive breastfeeding in the United States (U.S.) at 3 and 6 months of age remain stagnant and low. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that just 43 percent of infants are still breastfeeding at 6 months of age, and only 13 percent are breastfeeding exclusively.
But breastfeeding is more than a matter of health and nutrition. It’s a behavior that affects everyone’s bottom line. Government research shows that breastfeeding could save billions in direct and indirect costs to consumers. A simple cost analysis also shows that opting for breast milk over formula could save individual families as much as $2,500 (or more!) each year.
The World Health Organization promotes exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also recommends that mothers breastfeed exclusively for at least 4 months, but preferably 6 months. Both groups also advocate that breastfeeding continue for at least the first one to two years of life.
A 2001 study entitled, “The Economic Benefits of Breastfeeding: A Review and Analysis” commissioned by the Food and Rural Economics Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) showed that a minimum of $3.6 billion would be saved if rates of exclusive breastfeeding increased 21 percent from then current levels of 64 percent at birth and 29 percent at 6 months to 75 percent at birth and 50 percent at 6 months.
Given the fact that exclusively breastfed infants have fewer illnesses compared with formula-fed infants, the USDA study argued that if the prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding increased, the total number of infants who become sick would decline. The subsequent reduction in both direct costs (such as formula costs as well as laboratory, and procedural fees) and indirect costs (such as time and wages lost by parents attending to a sick child) would result in that substantial savings.
In 2010, a follow up study published in Pediatrics updated the USDA data and found that if 90 percent of American families complied with medical recommendations to breastfeed exclusively for six months, the U.S. would save a staggering $13 billion per year and prevent more than 911 deaths. (You can read more about this here.)
In short, the economic value of breastfeeding can be determined by measuring the reduction in medical and other costs associated with having healthier babies. Although these “big picture” economic benefits of breastfeeding are telling, what may be more convincing for many families is the direct impact breast milk can have on their pocketbooks.
A cost analysis
For the most part, breastfeeding is free. Women who work outside the home or simply prefer a greater degree of flexibility may choose to purchase a pump. Even when the cost of a breast pump is tallied, a cost analysis of the decision to breastfeed an infant for 12 months rather than formula feed still reveals significant savings over the course of that first year.
Many mothers who choose to express their milk in addition to breastfeeding do so manually. However, mothers returning to work or school full time may find breast pumps more convenient in maintaining their milk supply. Regardless of the method a mother chooses, even the most expensive breast pumps on the market are significantly cheaper than buying 12 months worth of infant formula.
By scouring the Internet for the wide range of products associated with both breastfeeding as well as formula feeding, the average prices for all of those items (from the biggest deals to the most expensive brand names) can be calculated. Over the course of one year, the difference in total costs is substantial. Here is a breakdown of our analysis:
Costs associated with breastfeeding for 12 months:
|Double Electric Breast Pump||$250.00|
|6 Glass or PBA-free plastic Baby Bottles||$40.00|
|Nursing Bras (2)||$70.00|
|Reusable nursing pads||$20.00|
Costs associated with formula feeding* for 12 months:
*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).
|Formula Feeding Supplies||Daily Cost||Annual Cost|
|Ready to Feed Formula||$7.84||$2,862.00|
|Concentrated Formula (Add Water)||$5.38||$1,963.00|
|Powdered Formula (Add Water)||$4.40||$1,606.00|
|6 Glass or PBA-free plastic Baby Bottles||n/a||$40.00|
|Subtotal Ready to Feed Formula||$2,902.00|
|Subtotal Concentrated Formula||$2,003.00|
|Subtotal Powdered Formula||$1,646.00|
|Bottle Drying Rack||n/a||$15.00|
|Grand Total Ready to Feed Formula||$3,007.00|
|Grand Total Concentrated Formula||$2,108.00|
|Grand Total Powdered Formula||$1,751.00|
Bottom line: Breastfeeding can save families between $1,300 and $2,500 the first year.
It’s important to note, the costs savings associated with choosing to breastfeed rather than formula-feed could increase by $500 to $860 if parents choose organic formula, which on average costs about 30 percent more than conventional formulas.
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 would also increase considerably.
Still, the costs associated with even the most basic formula can add up over the course of one year. In fact, a mother who chooses to breastfeed could use the $1,300 (or more) she saves on formula to purchase any one of the following:
Let’s not forget, a mother who chooses to breastfeed can also put the money she would have spent on formula in an interest-bearing savings account or a brokerage account in order to plan for long-term financial goals. She could also pay down debt with the extra cash—that’s the equivalent of earning whatever interest rate she was paying on the debt without any risk!
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