In the past few years, I’ve read a number of articles about breastfeeding vs. formula feeding because it seems like there’s a new voice in the conversation all the time. And one of the most common things I see in comments are breastfeeding activists who say, “If breastfeeding isn’t working, why don’t you just pump?” Honestly, though there are a lot of things to hate in the breastfeeding/formula feeding debate, but this is my biggest irritation.
Obviously tone is hard to understand in writing, but there’s something about these particular comments that sound so flippant. Like pumping is an easy out, when in reality, it’s the opposite. Pumping is financially costly, it takes a lot of time and commitment, and at least for me, it was really mentally draining. Is it harder than nursing? I honestly don’t know (since my baby never nursed), but I know that it is tough and it’s not something that should be suggested as an easy out when things are tough nor should it be used as a suggestion to shame mothers who choose formula for any reason.
I recently decided to total up our costs of pumping for a year and I was astounded. I don’t want to discourage anyone from doing it (and I have a good suggestion to make things less expensive below) because it is a great way to feed a baby, but I also think that it is something you should go into knowingly. And equally as important, I think that it’s also something that you should be aware of before you imply that a mother is lazy for choosing formula instead of pumping.
1. The pump. We first bought an electric pump (the Medela Freestyle) for $350. After realizing that it wasn’t strong enough, we rented a Medela Symphony for 50 dollars a month, which at least in my area, was an absolute steal. Most places we looked at for renting was closer to 65-70 a month. With both pumps, my grand total for just the pump for a year was: $950. Whoa.
(Sidenote here: the Affordable Care Act has included breast pumps as a covered healthcare item, so check with your insurance about whether you qualify for a good pump and how to get it. I was one of the unfortunate few whose insurance year didn’t restart until June, so I missed out on it this year. If you’re looking for more information, check out Pumping Essentials, they work to get women pumps through their insurance and can save you a mess of money.)
2. The pump parts. One Medela pump kit costs $36, which isn’t terrible. One Freestyle kit costs $17.95. One set of large flanges that don’t come with either of those kits costs $13.15. You can get by with one set, but there’s also the issue of damage during sterilization and the parts just plain wearing out. I ended up having to replace 3 flanges, and bought an additional set so I would have two sets at all times. My total cost for pump parts for the year was: $129.40 Bam, already over a thousand dollars.
3. Bottles. Since you can’t pump into the baby’s mouth (though I thought about it), you also need to buy baby bottles. Per our LC’s suggestion when we were trying to convince Eli to breastfeed, we tried out Tommee Tippee and loved them. A three pack of Tommee Tippee bottles will run you $15.99. So my total for bottles this year was: $31.98
4. Storage bottles. My pump parts didn’t come with bottles and if your pump comes with any, it will not be enough. We ended up buying this storage system and then 6 months later bought a second one to replace the caps that melted in the dishwasher and because we needed extra bottles for storage at daycare. My total for storage bottles for the year was: $66.10
5. Freezer bags. I didn’t use very many storage bags because I never had a surplus, but when I did, I used the medela bags that came in the storage system. This was at no additional cost, but if you have an abundant supply, it’s another item you need to consider.
6. Nursing cover. Pumping on the go was non-negotiable for me, and I needed a good cover to do it. I’m sure there are maybe less expensive ones on the market, but this is the one I used this year. My total cost for nursing covers for the year was: $24.21
7. Washing supplies. I initially used sterilization bags to get everything good and clean, but after talking with my lactation consultant, I switched to the heated dry setting on my dishwasher and got it all clean that way. I obviously can’t blame all my dishwashing costs on pumping, but now that I’m done, I run the dishwasher every other day, as opposed to the every day I ran it while pumping. Additionally, I went through two packs of these on the go wipe cleaning wipes over the course of the year, bringing my total cost of washing pump parts to: $46.33
8. Nursing pads. Despite trying some reusable nursing pads, I ended up having to go with reusable ones due to leakage and thrush issues. I went through 10 boxes of these Lansinoh pads, so my total cost for nursing pads for the year was: $62.20
9. Time. I can’t put a dollar amount on this, but I think it was the most costly part of pumping. For the first 6 months of Eli’s life, I pumped 30 minutes, 8 times a day, for a total of 4 hours a day. For the 7-10th months, I pumped 30 minutes, 6 times a day and for the last two months, I pumped 30 minutes, 4 times a day. Over the course of a year I spent 1218 hours pumping.
The total cost of one year of pumping for me was $1,310.13 and 1,218 hours. I’m definitely missing a few costs here and there, as well as a few hours, I’m sure, but that was my reality. I don’t mean to imply that breastfeeding is free or that formula feeding is less expensive, because I realize that neither of those are necessarily true for some/most people. What I want to say, clearly, is that pumping is an undertaking. It’s not a quick or easy solution. It is doable, but it is costly both in terms of dollars and time away from a baby. And I think most importantly, implying that it’s easier than formula feeding is a fallacy.
Pumping is an option I support and one I chose for my child and I have few, if any, regrets about it. But we all need to keep in mind that every mother and child are different and the only goal with feeding a baby is to make sure they get enough calories and nutrients and whether that’s by formula or breast milk shouldn’t be anyone’s concern but each child’s parents. Hopefully this serves a good reminder that there are hidden costs in all feeding options and that we should take a moment to think, both about what we’re saying and how we say it, before we tell another mother what to do.