Does Breastfeeding Really Save Money?

Attachment parenting can require a hefty financial commitment.

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This week’s cover of Time magazine, featuring a woman breastfeeding her tall three-year-old son, launched a range of strong reactions across the blogosphere. Some supporters of attachment parenting lauded the cover as “normalizing” breastfeeding past the age of one, while others felt the defiant stance of mother and son seemed designed to spark outrage and even evoked pornography.

Time magazine breastfeeding cover
Time magazine breastfeeding cover

Amid the controversy, the actual article, which explores the birth of attachment parenting, was barely discussed. But attachment parenting, which often includes co-sleeping, long-term breastfeeding, and near-constant togetherness of mother and child also comes with a price. As Hanna Rosin of Slate has pointed out, round-the-clock breastfeeding is hardly compatible with most women’s jobs, and the constant sleep deprivation can interfere with getting work done during the day.

Rosin writes in Slate, “There is the very basic objection that it is virtually impossible to do what the advocates say is best for your baby and have a job, which the vast majority of American mothers have these days.”

There’s also evidence that extended breastfeeding can have a negative impact on earnings. As Ruth Mantell wrote in the Wall Street Journal, breastfeeding can hurt a woman's ability to earn money for her family, largely because of the time it takes. She cites research that shows women who breastfeed for six months or longer face a steeper income decline than those who breastfeed less than six months. And as the researcher points out, money plays a vital role in children’s well-being.

Breastfeeding itself is not always as free and easy as it might seem, either. In fact, it can be costly: Many new mothers need the services of lactation consultants, who can cost $100 an hour, and working mothers who spend time away from their babies need pumps, which can cost $400. Nursing tops and tanks, nursing pillows, nipple cream, and other accessories add to the cost. While avoiding formula certainly saves a lot—over $1,500 in the first year, by some estimates—and breastfed babies are less likely to come down with certain illnesses, which reduces healthcare costs, breastfeeding today is certainly not “free,” at least not for most people.

For parents committed to the attachment parenting model and breastfeeding, there are free resources that can help. La Leche League and the website kellymom.com offer assistance and support to nursing moms. The IRS also recently changed flex spending rules so breast pumps and related nursing supplies are eligible for tax breaks. But it’s not so easy to overcome the challenge of finding the time to both work and practice attachment parenting. For parents with jobs that require them to be away for nine to 10 hours a day, it might not even be possible.

What do you think about the price of attachment parenting—is it worth it?

Twitter: @alphaconsumer