While I've always known that I would nurse my children, I highly doubt it was something my husband had given much thought. But at some point in our marriage, we were talking with close friends, and I heard my husband say that he agreed that our children should be breastfed. His manly logic: Why pay for something you can get for free?
I found several estimates on the cost of a year's worth of formula, and most have the price hovering around $1500-$2000, although some say more, especially if your child has special dietary needs or if you opt for liquid formula to save time. While a nursing mother should consume about 300-500 more calories a day, the cost of additional food pales in comparison to the cost of formula. And many nursing moms opt for losing weight instead. Of course it goes without saying that if you're staying at home with your child, you'll rarely need bottles, so again, you'll save money (and time) by breastfeeding.
Like I said, this is an obvious money-saver. But what's not so obvious are the other ways in which you can save money by nursing your children.
The Hidden Savings: Healthcare costs!
Primarily, nursing your babies will boost their immune systems, resulting in healthier children overall, and fewer trips to the doctor. If more babies were breastfed, the overall annual healthcare costs in the US could be reduced by as much as $3.6 billion. Additionally, healthy children means less days missed for mom and dad at work, although this isn't as much of an issue if mom is at home with the children.
I grew up watching my mother nurse my younger brothers (remember, my twin and I are numbers 2 & 3 in the birth order, out of 7 children), so from a young age, I was aware that breast is best. I didn't know the specific reasons, but it just seemed logical: In the same way that a cow's milk is best for a new calf, wouldn't a mom's milk be best for her baby? Gee, I just compared myself to a cow. I'm sure that's good for my pregnant lady self-esteem.
At some point in my pregnancy with my first child, I read the list of health benefits of nursing, and my response was to immediately pick up the phone and thank my mother for giving me such a great start in life. Here's a short list of the health benefits of nursing, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics:
Breastfeeding can protect against
- bacterial meningitis
- diarrhea (which my 21 month old has never had!)
- respiratory tract infection
- urinary tract infection
- ear infection (None of my mother's 7 children have had tubes put in their ears, and my 21 month old has never had an ear infection. However, I do know of some breastfed infants who had ear infection issues, due to the formation of the inner ear.)
- lymphoma, leukemia, and Hodgkins disease
- possibly certain kinds of cancer
- possibly asthma
- possibly Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
Note that the AAP has slighty changed their position on the length of time mothers should spend exclusively nursing their babies. The 1997 policy stated that women should exclusively nurse their babies for the first 4-6 months of life and can introduce solids at some point after 4-6 months. Their breastfeeding experts, The Section on Breastfeeding, believed that it was best to wait until after 6 months of life to introduce solids, but the remaining doctors believed solids could be introduced prior to 6 months (but no sooner than 4 months). The 2005 guidelines seem to be a bit more firm on waiting until baby is 6 months old to introduce solids. Either way, the AAP still says it is best to nurse for the entire first year, and after that, as long as is mutually desired by both mom and baby.
Reducing the Cost of Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding can cost a small amount of money, but even this can be reduced.
- Make or borrow your nursing cover. I loved having a nursing cover, so I consider them to be essential.
- Don't use a Boppy pillow. Most people have a Boppy regardless of whether or not they nurse. It's one of those "in" things when it comes to having babies. Skip the Boppy if you like and use pillows instead, but personally, I felt that I was already saving a ton of money by nursing, so why not make it as comfortable and convenient as possible? A family member bought the Boppy for us as a shower gift, and I bought two covers with gift cards from friends, so it was no expense for us at all.
- Don't use bottles. Bottles are just a hassle. If you're going to be with your baby anyway, just use the cover, find a nearby dressing room or quiet place, and nurse that baby. I personally feel that people need to be more comfortable with the sight of a (covered) nursing mother.
- Don't buy a breast pump, unless you're going back to work. Borrow a pump from a friend instead. If you find you use it frequently, then purchase one new or buy one from ebay. Expensive, $300 breast pumps regularly go for $50-100 on e-bay. You can sterilize the parts or purchase new ones. But I would not purchase one unless you're certain you're going to use it. Many moms find that they don't really need a pump. I do suggest having a loaner pump on hand for those first few weeks. I used mine avidly during the first two weeks of nursing issues, and I also think it made engorgement much easier to bear, so I was so thankful that I had a good quality pump. But I'm glad I didn't have to pay for it. My sister-in-law gave it to me, and it's a Medela that retailed for around $200-300. It's currently on loan to my other sister-in-law. There's no need to buy one when you can borrow one from someone else.