Before I had kids of my own, I remember attending a baby shower where the majority of the guests already had children. As I sat and listened to them bemoaning their endless expenses and mounting bills, I couldn’t even pretend to commiserate. At the time, my husband and I were planning a week-long trip to Europe and we’d recently signed a contract to build a fabulous deck for our home.
Fast-forward a few years and three kids later, and I now know those women weren’t exaggerating. Having a baby costs serious money, and while you can take steps to minimize some of the baby expenses involved, many are simply unavoidable.
Taking care of yourself and your baby often requires spending hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on medical care. For the most part, health-related expenses are difficult to negotiable, so if you’re pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant, be sure to familiarize yourself with your insurance coverage and costs.
It’s common to attend childbirth classes during the last trimester of pregnancy, especially if it’s your first time giving birth. These classes can cost as little as $40 or as much as $300, depending on where you live and attend. Classes given at hospitals tend to be more economical, but often have limited space.
Some insurance companies cover the cost of childbirth classes, but many do not. Our policy was fairly generous with numerous aspects of my prenatal care, yet when it came to childbirth classes, the payments were completely out-of-pocket.
Bringing a healthy baby into this world means taking care of yourself as soon as you decide to try getting pregnant. My doctor recommended a prenatal vitamin before my husband and I even conceived. At $30 a month, it was tempting to forgo his advice, but I took it anyway.
Prescription costs for prenatals are based on individual coverage. I know people who paid as little as $15 per month and as much as $50 for their vitamins. Over-the-counter prenatals are also an option – they generally cost $15 to $30 for a one-month supply.
Once you get pregnant, expect to become well-acquainted with your OB/GYN. The average healthy woman visits her doctor once per month during her first two trimesters, every other week during her seventh and eighth months, and once per week during her ninth month.
The extent to which you pay out-of-pocket for prenatal visits varies. Some insurance companies charge a single, up-front copay that covers all standard prenatal appointments. Others make you submit your usual copay for each visit. According to WebMD, the average cost for prenatal care is $2,000 for those who don’t have insurance.
If you’re planning to give birth in a hospital, be prepared to pay. According to a 2013 study by Truven Health Analytics, the average out-of-pocket cost for women with insurance was $2,244 for a vaginal birth and $2,669 for a C-section. Your portion of the bill is ultimately dictated by the type of insurance you have, or whether you have insurance in the first place. With a good plan, your copay could be as little as $250 for your entire hospital stay – but beware if you have less generous coverage or a high-deductible plan.
According to a study by Georgetown University and the Kaiser Family Foundation, those with high-deductible plans are likely to pay between two and nearly five times more for an uncomplicated pregnancy and delivery than those with traditional plans (federal employees, in this example). And according to the Truven study, provider charges for vaginal childbirths averaged $32,093 for maternal and newborn care, while C-sections averaged $51,125 for maternal and newborn care. If you’re without coverage, you could be on the hook for the full amount of your hospital stay, though some facilities are willing to work with uninsured patients to reduce their total financial burden.
Keep in mind that unexpected costs can also creep up outside of your copay. If your newborn is admitted to the NICU, for example, you could wind up paying several hundred to several thousand dollars depending on your coverage. According to the Truven study, the average out-of-pocket cost for NICU care was roughly $1,300.
Another thing that can really add to your hospital-related costs is out-of-network services. Even if your hospital is considered to be in-network by your insurance company, some hospitals contract with outside professionals to provide special care or perform additional testing.
Weeks after bringing my twins home from the hospital, I received a $1,500 bill for medical services rendered by an out-of-network doctor. It turns out that the physician who administered my daughters’ hearing tests was out-of-network, which left me responsible for a significant portion of the cost, even though I made sure to deliver at an in-network hospital.
Alternate Birthing Options
Women having babies aren’t limited to delivering in hospitals. If you choose a home birth and hire a midwife, expect to pay between $1,500 and $3,000 out-of-pocket.
Home births are typically not covered by insurance. However, some insurance plans do cover midwife services, so if you have coverage, check to see what your plan allows. There may also be certain stipulations as to when a midwife is covered – for example, some policies only cover midwife care in an office setting and midwife deliveries in a hospital setting.
You could also opt to deliver at a birthing center. The average cost for a vaginal delivery is just under $1,900, according to The Wall Street Journal, which could wind up being less expensive than a hospital copay. Some insurance providers cover the cost of delivering at a birthing center, while others do not. Those that do offer coverage often contract with specific centers, so if you’re looking for an alternative to a hospital, check with your provider to see what your coverage entails.
Once you deliver, you must call your insurance company to add your baby to your existing health insurance policy. Companies generally require you to do so within 30 days of your child’s birth to be eligible for full coverage. Some companies allow employees to add dependents for a nominal fee, but I know parents whose children increased their participation costs by several hundred dollars per month, per child.
If you don’t have insurance, you can see if you qualify for government-assisted care or apply for a new private policy on your own. Some insurance companies cover newborns retroactively provided that the policy is assigned within 30 days of the child’s birth, but a safer bet is to secure coverage before you deliver. This way, you get to familiarize yourself with your benefits and understand your costs in advance.
Babies require extra monitoring and care in the beginning. Some insurance plans don’t charge copays for preventative, or “well,” visits, while others do. However, for additional, nonstandard visits, paying a copay is the standard.
Because my twins had low birth weights, we had to see our pediatrician once per week for the first month to ensure that they were gaining properly. At $25 per child, multiplied by two, we spent $200 that first month on pediatrician visits alone.
If you don’t have insurance, expect to pay anywhere from $75 to $250 per pediatrician visit. If you’re planning to immunize your child, you may be responsible for the full cost of each individual vaccine, though there are government programs that may cover or defray the cost if you’re uninsured.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I remember walking the aisles of a local baby store and marveling at the sheer amount of inventory designed specifically for infants. At the time, I was convinced I’d be subjecting my baby to a miserable existence by failing to acquire every single item on the store’s recommended checklist. Thankfully, I wised up during my second pregnancy and managed to avoid many unnecessary purchases.
When it comes to baby gear, there are plenty of items you can skip, but the following need to be on your list without fail:
- Car Seat. Many hospitals won’t even let you take your baby home without a car seat. A basic model costs as little as $60, but a higher-end model costs $200 or more. The thing to keep in mind with car seats is that pricier doesn’t mean safer. Check Consumer Reports or a similarly reputable source to see which car seats have the highest ratings, and choose the one that’s most cost-effective.
- Stroller. Unless you really want to work those arm muscles, you need a stroller to cart your baby around town. Strollers these days run the gamut from compact, basic models to full-fledged chariots, and their prices range from $50 to well over $500. We spent $300 on a stroller for our first child because we found the cheapest models difficult to steer. Before you overspend on a fancy stroller, decide which components are most important, and look out for features like extra storage, generous weight limits, and ease of maneuverability.
- Baby Monitor. If you live in a small apartment, you may not need a baby monitor. If you live in a house though, a monitor can help you keep tabs on your children when they’re asleep for the night or resting in another part of your home. A basic audio monitor costs around $40, while video monitors typically cost $100 to $200.
While the following baby items aren’t always necessary, many parents find them to be very useful:
- Portable Crib. A portable crib, or “pack-n-play,” makes traveling with an infant much easier. A basic model costs as little as $80; those with additional features, such as music or changing table inserts, range from $100 to $200.
- Baby Carrier. With a baby carrier, you’re able to hold and soothe your baby while freeing up your hands to do other things at the same time. A basic carrier costs around $25, while higher-end models retail for $50 or more.
- Baby Swing. I know plenty of parents who swear by their baby swings, and with my first child, ours was a lifesaver. Most baby swings cost around $100 and vary in size. If space is limited, choose a smaller model. Almost all baby swings have built-in music features, though some offer extras like overhead mobiles and flashing lights.
You can save money on almost all of your baby gear by buying it used. Check Craigslist, eBay, or Amazon.com Marketplace for secondhand items, or scope out local garage sales for goods on the cheap. Remember though that a car seat is the one item you should never buy used due to safety concerns.
Even if you’re not the type to create a meticulously themed nursery or spend lots of money on accessories and decor, there are certain basic baby furniture items to add to your “must buy” list:
- Crib. A crib costs anywhere from $150 to $2,000, possibly more. Just remember that all cribs must be manufactured to meet safety standards, regardless of price. In addition to your crib itself, factor in another $100 to $150 for a crib mattress, and $100 for a basic bedding set.
- Dressing Table or Changing Pads. You need a place to change diapers and store your baby’s clothing and supplies. A basic dressing or changing table costs as little as $100, though you may opt to forgo a dressing table and instead purchase a dresser with a changing pad to place on top of it. Changing pads are inexpensive – I spent about $30 on the last one I bought – and while a full-sized dresser typically costs more than a dressing table, you’re more likely to keep using your dresser once your child outgrows the diaper stage.
- Highchair. Though you don’t need to purchase a highchair right away, once your baby starts eating solid food, it becomes a necessity. Space-saver models – the type that strap onto regular chairs – retail for $50 to $80, while most standalone models fall into the $80 to $150 range. Of course, there are higher-end options, but according to the very helpful sales associate who guided me in my highchair purchase, mid-range models are just as safe, comfortable, and easy to clean as their more expensive counterparts.
As is the case with baby gear, you can reduce the amount you spend on furniture by purchasing used items. Garage sales, Craigslist, eBay, and Amazon Marketplace offer money-saving opportunities for new parents. A friend of mine recently snagged a used crib in great condition for $200 – the original retailed for $550.
Keeping your baby well-fed is quite possibly your most important job as a new parent. Unlike strollers and furniture, when it comes to feeding supplies, many parents are stuck paying retail, as buying used bottles or pumping supplies isn’t an option. Whether you’re breastfeeding or giving your baby formula, expect to spend $40 to $50 on a feeding pillow and another $10 to $20 on burp cloths.
- Formula-Feeding. In addition to a supply of formula, which can cost $100 or more per month depending on brand, and your child’s appetite, you need several bottles and nipples, which are sometimes sold separately. You can likely find a starter set for $25 to $60 in baby stores or via online retailers such as Amazon..com.
- Breastfeeding. A supportive nursing bra can make your experience much more manageable. A cheap nursing bra costs around $20, but be sure to buy a few so that you don’t have to rush to do laundry if yours get soiled or stained. Stocking up on nursing pads is also important – a one-month supply is $25 to $30. While breastfeeding is cheaper in the long run than formula-feeding, you may need to purchase a bottle set and a breast pump up front. An electric breast pump costs from $100 to more than $500 depending on the model. Manual pumps are far less expensive than their electric counterparts, and while some women find them less efficient, a manual pump may be more economical. Manual pumps from popular companies such as Medela and Philips Avent retail for about $30 to $35.
Some insurance companies cover the cost of a breast pump but limit you to certain types or brands. If you go through insurance, you may or may not have a copay depending on your coverage. If your insurance won’t pay for your pump, you could try your luck with a manual one.
You don’t need to go overboard when buying baby clothes, especially since infants tend to outgrow their clothing very quickly. A basic newborn wardrobe costs about $200, and it should include the following items:
- Onesies. These tend to come in sets of three, four, or five, and cost $10 to $20. Purchase 10 to 15 of them.
- One-Piece Pajamas or Stretchies. Usually retail for $10 to $15 apiece. Buy four or five.
- Pajama Sleepers or Sleep Sacks. Sleepers cost about $10 to $15; sacks cost closer to $20. Buy two to three.
- Seasonally Appropriate Outfits. Matching tops and bottoms are typically $10 to $15 per set. Get four to five.
- Socks. You need more of these because they tend to fall off and get lost easily, but they’re fairly inexpensive, costing only about $2 a pair. Buy about seven to eight.
Keep in mind that babies have a tendency to soil their clothing on a regular basis, so having more to choose from means less pressure to get dirty outfits cleaned right away. When my son was an infant, I had a decent clothing rotation, but I still did laundry every two to three days. With my twins, it was every other day at a minimum.
Clothing tends to be a popular baby gift, so wait to see how much you receive in the beginning before buying more. Also, babies who are born big don’t always fit into newborn-sized clothing. Don’t buy more than the absolute minimum until you’re able to gauge your baby’s size.
On the other hand, babies need to be swaddled and kept warm, so factor in another $20 for a good set of receiving blankets. Don’t buy more than one set though – you’re likely to land some more when the gifts start rolling in.
While some parents are hesitant to buy used baby clothing, don’t discount the option off the bat. Babies outgrow clothing at a rapid pace, and you may find yourself with outfits that only get worn once or twice before becoming too small. Try snagging used items at local garage sales, since this way you’re able to see what you’re buying. You can also buy secondhand clothing online, but beware that your version of “gently worn” may differ from that of the seller.
Diapering and Bathing Supplies
Newborns tend to go through 10 to 12 diapers per day during those early weeks. At roughly $0.25 each, that’s around $80 to $90 for your first month’s supply, plus another $30 for accompanying wipes and ointment.
In addition, be sure to factor in the following necessities:
- Diaper Pail. Trust me – a diaper pail is far different from an ordinary garbage pail. A good deodorizing diaper pail costs $30 to $50. Some are compatible with ordinary trash bags, while others require specific refill bags that cost extra.
- Diaper Bag. Since diapering sometimes needs to happen while you’re on the go, add a diaper bag to your list of baby purchases. A basic diaper bag costs $40 to $80. Of course, there are also designer diaper bags that retail for $300 or more. If you’re not concerned about getting your diaper bag fresh off the shelves, try finding one that’s lightly used at a yard sale or online, where you may snag it for 50% or more off the retail price.
- Bath Items. While bathing isn’t nearly as time-consuming as diapering, be prepared to spend another $80 to $100 to keep your infant clean. A baby tub costs $30 to $40. Then, add another $20 to $30 for towels and washcloths. While you can use linens you already own to save money, they may be too rough for a newborn’s skin. On top of that, throw in $30 to cover baby soap, shampoo, a comb, and a nail grooming kit.
Toys may seem like more of a want than a need, but in reality they play a pivotal role in your baby’s development. Colorful toys that light up or make noise help babies develop essential tracking and cognitive skills.
Toys also make tummy time more tolerable for infants. Because the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be placed to sleep on their backs, parents are advised to incorporate tummy time into their babies’ daily routines, but many infants resist tummy time and find it uncomfortable. Toys and activities keep babies engaged while on their stomachs, thus making tummy time easier on both infants and their parents.
Here are some popular options to consider:
- Rattles. Rattles are fairly cheap, costing about $5 to $10 apiece. They help babies learn to grip and transfer from hand to hand.
- Mobiles. Mobiles cost anywhere from $20 to $40 on average and keep babies alert and stimulated.
- Play Mats. Play mats, or activity mats, can be simple or loaded with features. They typically range from $20 to $60.
- Stacking Toys. At $10 to $15 apiece, these are essential for helping babies develop coordination skills.
- Soft Books. Infants usually appreciate the texture and color of books more so than the story lines contained therein, but some folks insist that early exposure helps children develop a love of reading. Soft books are $5 to $10 on average.
- Stuffed Animals. Soft, cuddly, and comforting, stuffed animals are a great addition to an infant toy collection. Some cost as little as $10, while others retail for $50 or more. When purchasing a stuffed toy for an infant, be sure that its features are truly baby-friendly – avoid those with beaded eyes, beanbag-type stuffing, and small, removable parts.
Other Unexpected Costs
When it comes to babies, unexpected expenses are pretty much par for the course. Don’t let these catch you off-guard:
- New Car. If your current vehicle can’t accommodate an infant car seat, or if it doesn’t have enough storage to lug all that baby gear around town, you’re probably going to have to buy a new car. Along these lines, if you don’t presently own a car and instead rely on public transportation, you may find that a car becomes necessary once your baby enters the picture.
- Higher Utility Bills. Remember all that laundry we talked about? It’s more than just time-consuming – it’s a source of higher water bills. And if you give birth during the winter, expect higher heating costs to keep your home at a temperature that’s comfortable for your infant.
There’s no question that having a baby is a very expensive prospect. The good news? If you decide to have a second child, you can recycle a lot of your gear and hold onto more money the next time around. With any luck, the joys of parenthood will more than compensate for the financial sacrifices you make along the way.
How much did you spend when you had your first child? What tricks did you employ to trim costs?