During my son’s recent one year check up, the pediatrician talked to us about many things, such as what to introduce into his diet, what skills we should be working on, and up-coming potential vaccines. None of these came as a surprise to me since the information is commonly available in nearly any baby book.
However, as we were nearing the end of the appointment, the pediatrician told me to make sure I continue to breastfeed approximately four times a day until my child is two years old. Uh, wait a second…isn’t breastfeeding supposed to be stopped once a child is out of infancy?
I decided to look into the current recommendations for breastfeeding moms, and this is what I found.
Current Breastfeeding Recommendations
I was surprised to learn that breastfeeding is recommended for at least two years by the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Family Physicians. In fact, according to the American Association of Pediatrics, breastfeeding should be continued as long as mutually desired by the mother and baby, and there is no evidence of psychological harm of extended breastfeeding.
As I discovered more about breastfeeding beyond the first year, it really got me thinking about the multitude of benefits it provides. Although it’s true that these benefits increase the longer you nurse, even mothers who breastfeed for only a few weeks can reap many of the financial and health rewards.
Here are some of the amazing things breastfeeding can do for you and your child.
Health Benefits of Breastfeeding
Nursing carries some fantastic, documented health benefits for both mother and baby. Consider the following when making the decision whether to breastfeed:
Benefits for Baby
1. Provides protection against illnesses
According to the American Association of Family Physicians, children who are breastfed for less than two years are at an increased risk of illness. Not only that, breastfed toddlers are sick for shorter durations than non-nursing toddlers. And, according to the World Health Organization, an increase in breastfeeding rates could result in a lower number of deaths for children under the age of five.
2. Provides protection against allergies
Many studies have shown that breastfeeding is a proven way to prevent allergies and asthma. This is something that could affect the child’s life in its entirety, both health-wise and financially.
3. Best source of nutrition
Believe it or not, there are about 250 unknown ingredients in breast milk! The nutritional value is limitless, not to mention mind-blowing. And during the second year of life, these nutrients become even more concentrated. With a mere 16 ounces of breast milk a day, toddlers get:
- 29% of energy requirements
- 43% of protein requirements
- 36% of calcium requirements
- 75% of vitamin A requirements
- 76% of folate requirements
- 94% of vitamin B12 requirements
- 60% of vitamin C requirements
One thing to keep in mind is that breast milk does not contain enough Vitamin D for a growing baby and therefore your baby’s diet should also include a Vitamin D supplement.
4. May reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
Every parent’s worst nightmare is SIDS, and most take every precaution to prevent it. Nursing your baby is another form of protection. Although there can be other variables involved, such as socioeconomic factors and maternal smoking, studies have found that instances of SIDS are much lower in babies who are breastfed.
5. May increase intelligence
Not only is there a link between breastfeeding and intelligence, there is also a link between intelligence and the length of time a baby was breastfed. Similar to the SIDS research, there are many factors involved in these correlations, but signs definitely indicate that breast milk is best when it comes to a baby’s brain.
6. May protect against obesity
Interestingly, there are separate growth curves for formula-fed babies and breastfed babies, with the latter trending toward smaller babies. Breastfeeding is a great way to start your baby on the path away from obesity.
7. Helps with social adjustment
Research shows that breastfeeding helps solidify the bond between mother and baby. By meeting your baby’s needs, you are giving them a solid sense of security. In turn, secure babies grow into confident, independent children.
Benefits for Mother
1. Can decrease the risk of postpartum depression (PPD) and stress
Being a mother is a tough job, and it brings out every emotion possible – including the not so pleasant ones. The physical act of breastfeeding not only provides a moment of peace for mother and baby, it actually releases hormones that promote happiness and physical relaxation.
2. May reduce the risk of some cancers
This list includes breast cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, and uterine cancer. There is also a link between the reduction in the risk of breast cancer and the duration of breastfeeding, which is just another great reason to extend breastfeeding into a baby’s second year of life. Avoiding serious illness could also affect finances later in life (i.e. save on medical expenses).
3. Helps you lose baby weight
The average woman burns 600 calories a day breastfeeding. That’s 600 calories a day burned by sitting and bonding with your baby! Admittedly, not all women lose their baby weight due to breastfeeding, but a large number of women actually do – including me and several of my friends.
4. May reduce the risk of some diseases
Interestingly, breastfeeding can reduce a woman’s chances of developing osteoporosis. While nursing, a lot of the woman’s nutrients go to the baby. When she stops nursing, her body automatically works hard to increase her bone density to higher levels than those prior to nursing. Along the same line, breastfeeding also reduces the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
5. Delays the return of fertility
I am huge proponent of having many children and taking the natural approach to family planning. However, having children back-to-back-to-back can take a toll on a woman’s body (and her sanity). The natural delay in fertility that breastfeeding provides allows children to be spaced appropriately for most families. That being said, keep in mind that nursing does not guarantee that you won’t get pregnant.
Health benefits are probably the biggest, most immediate concern for new moms. But what about money? Is breastfeeding that much more cost-effective than bottle feeding? How much can it really save you?
Financial Benefits of Breastfeeding
The obvious financial benefit of breastfeeding is that breast milk itself is free. Nevertheless, there are some costs associated with breastfeeding. Keep in mind, they are all optional depending on the family situation.
Potentially, a mother could nurse a baby for years and not pay a dime. How much have I paid to nurse my child for the first year as a stay at home mom? Probably less than $100, but I have not made many of the additional optional purchases.
Take a look at some of the potential costs to see how they might add up in your life.
Potential Costs of Breastfeeding
1. Breast Pumps and Accessories
A breast pump, which is one of the biggest baby expenses, may be a requirement if you are a working mom who is unable to nurse your baby during the day. Luckily, breast pumps are common baby shower gifts so hopefully the money will not be coming out of your pocket.
If you do have to make the purchase on your own, think carefully about your personal needs. Pumps can range from $45 to $400, depending on the model. If you find you need one of the high power, expensive versions, talk to a hospital lactation consultant about possible rental or payment plan options that may be available.
Shown below, the Medela Pump in Style Advanced Breast Pump with Backpack sells for around $250.
2. Bottles and Bottle Accessories
If you will be unavailable for extended periods of time, the baby will need bottles. And since babies tend to be finicky, you may need to buy several different types until you find the one that your baby likes the best. Expect to spend some money on this even if you do receive some at your baby shower.
To get a good, quality set of 3 bottles, you will spend around $15. Add in accessories, such as a bottle sterilizer, warmer, and bottle brush, and you can easily spend another $100. You won’t necessarily need all of these things though, so be sure to take a good look at your lifestyle and spend your money wisely. You’ll also want to get bottles made of BPA-free plastic.
Dr. Brown’s BPA Free Polypropylene Natural Flow Wide Neck Bottle is a good option (3-pack for $15).
3. Nursing Attire
This is definitely optional. There are nursing bras and tops available, but a mom on a budget can make do without these. Nursing bras and tops range in price, but the average cost is about $25 per piece. The more you spend, the higher the quality.
Mendela Womens Sleep Nursing Bra for $16 is below.
Lanolin is cream for the mother to prevent cracking. Since this is available for free at hospitals, make sure you load up before you get discharged (assuming you choose a hospital birth). A small amount goes a long way, so you will most likely never have to purchase any. If you do have to purchase some lanolin, you can get a big container for less than $10 (e.g. Now Foods Lanolin Pure, 7-Ounce for $8).
5. Nursing Pillows
These are used to provide extra support and make nursing more comfortable for mom and baby. This is yet another thing you will probably receive at your baby shower. If you do not, just use a regular pillow instead. Nursing pillows cost about $25 and an additional $15 per cover.
Below is the Leachco Cuddle-U Nursing Pillow for $25.
Since so many nutrients are going straight into their breast milk, it is important for breastfeeding mothers to take prenatal vitamins. Fortunately, the cost is minimal because there are many great ways to buy vitamins for cheap. Expect to spend around $10 per 60 vitamins if you buy them over the counter, or $20 per month if you use a prescription.
You can get 192 vitamins with New Chapter Perfect Prenatal for around $46 (or 48 tablets for $15).
What do pregnant women and nursing women have in common? They both like to eat a lot. While pregnant women need an extra 300 calories a day, nursing moms require around 500. If you were already spending extra money on food while you were pregnant, you may not notice a change once the baby is born. Remember to use discount grocery coupons as much as possible or get into extreme couponing.
8. Various Accessories
There are other breastfeeding accessories you can buy, such as feeding covers (about $30) and milk storage bags (about $10 per package of 25).
Nursing costs range between $0 and $1,000, depending on if you need a pump and if you purchase the optional products. Of course, a lot of these accessories will be front and center on your baby registry, so you most likely won’t have to spend anywhere near that $1,000.
Cost Savings of Breastfeeding
With all of the potential expenses listed above, you may be wondering how much more cost-effective nursing is than bottle feeding. The truth is, whether you purchase every nursing accessory available or not, you will experience substantial savings if you choose to nurse your baby.
Here’s a breakdown of your potential cost savings:
Formula does not come cheap. In fact, this is usually the greatest expense for a formula fed baby during the first year. I estimate the cost of formula for one year to be around $1,800, depending on how much your child eats and the type of formula you buy.
2. Bottles and Bottle Accessories
While you may or may not need bottles if you are breastfeeding, you will definitely need them if you are not. In fact, you will probably need a lot more of them. Expect to pay close to $200 for the bottles and accessories.
3. Whole Milk
When you go on to breastfeed during the child’s second year of life, you will be saving on the cost of whole milk, which normally replaces formula once a baby turns one year of age. With the rising cost of milk (a challenging item to find coupons for), this could potentially save a family hundreds of dollars over the course of a year. For example, if milk is $3 a gallon, and you need 2 gallons a week, you will spend over $300 a year!
4. Cost of Treating and Preventing Illnesses
When your child gets sick, doctor’s bills and medications can add up quickly. Therefore, it’s only logical that you will save money if your child is sick less frequently, or for a shorter duration. Co-pays are typically $20 per visit, and children’s medicines cost between $5 and $10. If your child gets sick every other month, it will cost you close to $200 a year.
Total Costs for Bottle Feeding (over 2 years): $2,700
Nursing Savings: Breastfeeding for two years can save you anywhere from $1,70o to $2,700!
Even if you receive all of the bottles and accessories as gifts, no one is going to be buying you formula, whole milk, or paying your doctor’s bills. Over the course of two years, these costs will add up and hit your wallet harder than you might expect.
Admittedly, breastfeeding may not be for everyone. For some families, a mother who has to go back to work may have a difficult time balancing work and home life. Or, perhaps a mother is physically unable to breastfeed – and that is okay. Formula is a wonderful and healthy alternative.
However, given the choice between breastfeeding and formula feeding, there really is no competition. It can be difficult at times, especially in the beginning, but it will pay off during the lifetimes of both baby and mother. Most importantly, breastfeeding creates a bond between a mother and child that no one in the world can take away or replace. Even if breastfeeding did cost more than formula feeding (and I would consider myself fairly frugal), I would still choose to breastfeed.
Do you have experience breastfeeding? What are your thoughts on the health and financial benefits?
(photo credit: Shutterstock)