The cost of breastfeeding

Save Money on Breastfeeding

by Cathy Tanaka

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I've heard so many times that breastfeeding is more economical than formula because it's free, and I almost want to laugh. Some people estimate the cost of one year's worth of formula to be $1200, and that's about what I spent to breastfeed my first son, when you add up the cost of a breast pump, consultations with lactation experts, and nursing gear. But having spent all that money, I've learned a lot about what you need and what you don't. Here's the low down on how to reduce the cost of breastfeeding:

Nursing Bras - Inexpensive nursing bras are easy to find. I got mine at Motherhood Maternity for under $15 apiece. Wal-Mart also has inexpensive nursing bras, and I have friends who found good deals on at J.C. Penny. However, you might not need to spend any money on nursing bras; some women simply wear jogging bras and just lift them up to nurse, and other women wear regular bras and pull them down.

Nursing Tops - Generally, nursing tops are nice but definitely not necessary. I never liked the button-down shirts that some people recommend (the idea is that you unbutton from the bottom to stay covered up top), but a simple t-shirt works perfectly well for me. Nursing in public takes some practice but doesn't require a special shirt. If you do want to purchase nursing tops (and I do like having a few), Motherhood Maternity has inexpensive shirts but a very limited selection. I also have a friend who purchased lovely nursing shirts and dresses on eBay.

Nursing Pads - I suspect I'm in the minority, but I needed to wear nursing pads the entire time I nursed my first son. I saved money by buying washable nursing pads to wear around the house, and wearing disposable nursing pads only when I went out (the disposable pads were less visible and had a waterproof backing so I wouldn't leak through my shirt). Buy as many washable pads as you need to get through a day or two, depending on how often you do laundry, and toss them in a lingerie bag to wash.

Nursing Pillow - You don't necessarily need a special nursing pillow. Early on, when baby's latch is crucial for adequate nourishment and for your comfort, two regular pillows (one for your back and one under baby) will work just fine. After a few months, you probably won't need any pillows to nurse. If you really want a nursing pillow, try the inflatable My Brest Friend. It is comparable to the very popular foam version but half the cost and more sanitary since it is made of plastic and can be wiped down.

Pumps - Not surprisingly, a good electric pump is expensive but worth it if you need to pump a lot, for example, if you go back to work full time while your baby is still breastfeeding. However, if you don't need to pump often, you can probably get by with an inexpensive manual pump. And if you don't plan on breastfeeding for more than a few months, consider renting a pump from a hospital or lactation consultant. You could also borrow or inherit someone else's pump, but many experts don't recommend this for sanitary reasons.

Expert Help and Support - Your hospital may provide prenatal breastfeeding classes and/or breastfeeding support immediately after you give birth. The breastfeeding class at the hospital where I gave birth was only $35 and they offered a free consultation with an in-house lactation expert after I gave birth. (Additional consultations in the hospital were only $25.) The hospital also had a Breastfeeding Information Line that you could call toll-free anytime. There is also the La Leche League (, a renowned source of support and information for breastfeeding mothers. In addition to giving great advice, they run support groups. In fact, a support group made up of other breastfeeding mothers is the easiest and cheapest way to get great advice. If you don't know other breastfeeding moms, check out breastfeeding forums on sites like and Additionally, nonprofit groups in your area that support breastfeeding may be able to provide you with helpful information. For example, in Southern California, the Breastfeeding Task Force of Greater Los Angeles offers resources and courses.

Finally, it's impossible to calculate how much breastfeeding saves on medical expenses by helping you raise a healthier child. But my first son is two years old and I can count on one hand the number of times he's been to the pediatrician for something other than a well-baby check-up. So I think breastfeeding is worth every penny, but it's always good to spend less when you can, and I hope these tips help.

Cathy Tanaka publishes a blog called CFO: Chief Family Officer (, featuring tips on finances, parenting, cooking and more.

Take the Next Step

  • Find out more about breast feeding at the La Leche League
  • Check with your hospital for other options and support groups in your area.

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