Editor’s note: This post was originally featured on Grounded Parents and was written by me. In a nutshell: “By saying that breast milk is free, you are undervaluing a mother’s time, physical and mental costs, and actual financial costs to sustain breastfeeding.”
I have heard this refrain a lot lately: “I breastfeed my baby because breast milk is free!” And while I understand what the person is trying to say, that they think breast milk costs less than formula, it’s wrong to say that breast milk is free.
Before I get started, because I know this will get brought up even though it’s not relevant, yes I breastfed my child, for 12 months. At times, I loved breastfeeding, and I kept up with it for personal reasons. But I still get so irritated when I hear people claim that breast milk is free! Because I spent a lot of money, time, and effort to be able to breastfeed, to the point where I probably should have just supplemented with formula.
Disclaimer: I’m not saying that breastfeeding isn’t enjoyable or that you shouldn’t do it. You can do whatever works for you and your baby. If your baby is well-fed, that’s all that matters. Breast, bottle, or tube–however your baby gets its food is just fine. There are many factors that go into deciding what feeding method to use, if you even get a choice, and not all of them can be quantified and compared evenly. This post is not a debate on whether or not breast milk is the best choice.
First, let’s talk about the purely financial cost of breastfeeding. This misleading chart from KellyMom compares the cost of formula to the cost of breastfeeding. I’m not disputing that formula has a high monetary cost–it does. But the section on “typical cost of breastfeeding” that says “free–everything else is optional!” is wrong. I suppose all clothing is technically optional, but it’s not like you can just breastfeed while wearing a typical non-maternity bra. Nursing pads are necessary if you want to leave the house without worrying about showing wet spots through your shirt. A nursing pillow isn’t just a “nice to have” item. I tried breastfeeding using regular pillows and it hurt my back a lot. And technically, you may not need to call up a lactation consultant, but I wouldn’t call it an “optional” expense for moms like me who needed help nurturing a healthy breastfeeding relationship.
So yeah, if you never leave your house and you have flowy clothes, a lot of those clothing items are optional.
However, I am a working mom (like most moms in the United States), so I also incurred a lot of non-optional costs, just to preserve my breastfeeding relationship with my child. My health insurance covered the cost of my breast pump (thanks, Obama!), but I had to buy extra bottles and bottle accessories, extra pump flanges, and breast milk freezer bags. Using a breast pump at work meant that I also needed to buy a pumping bra (because trying to hold two flanges over your boobs for 15 minutes, three times a day, while also trying to relax and let the milk flow, is not fun). I bought a manual pump as an emergency backup (and I had to use it more than a few times!).