Feeding a baby can be very, very expensive or it can be very, very inexpensive. The choice is (hopefully) up to you!
The best choice for any baby is to be breast fed by mommy. I realize this may not always be possible, but in most cases it is. Many women think they cannot breastfeed or think it will be too hard or think it will be inconvenient or think it will cause some kind of harm to them or the baby. Personally, I have a really hard time hearing these excuses as many of them can be overcome with education and persistence.
Breastfeeding is not always easy. In fact, it is often quite tricky and even painful in the beginning. My sister struggled (and I do mean struggled!) with my nephew for 5 months before they developed an easy nursing relationship. I've had friends who've dealt with incredible raw nipples and soreness and bleeding when nursing their babies. I know women who have had big discouragement from their workplace and have had to overcome major issues in order to be able to pump and continue breastfeeding. I've heard a woman explain that her doctor told her that she would increase her own and the babies chances of getting breast cancer if she nursed because she would pass it on through the milk. I've struggled with many challenges of nursing including the early loss of my milk. I've been handed the 'breastfeeding mother's gift pack' that included nothing but a few tips on a card and samples of formula and coupons for more formula. There are about 9,359 reasons that breastfeeding can seem like the harder choice.
However, there is nothing like breast milk for a child. The milk is made perfect for that baby's needs at that moment. Preemies get what they need most in order to survive, toddlers get the nutrients that keep them going during their very active days, and sick babies get perfect antibodies to help them get better or protect them from getting sick in the first place. The milk is always safe to drink, always the right temperature, it is always available as long as mom is there, and it is free!
I can't help but point out that even with buying a very nice breast pump, buying lots of little storage bags and nursing bras the costs associated with nursing are dramatically less than those associated with formula. There is no more frugal way to feed a baby!
Of course, there are cases when formula becomes necessary. We ended up using formula (and some donated breast milk) for about 5 months due to loss of milk. We worked like crazy for over a month trying to build up my milk supply after a very sudden loss, but even with great lactation consultants and using many different herbal remedies there just was no increase. (I was hit by a distracted driver while sitting at a red light. My car was totaled and my very full, biggest producing left breast was injured by my seat belt. The stress of the accident didn't help, but chances are the loss was really was due to trauma to the breast tissue.) Some mother's do not produce enough milk no matter what they do. Some families adopt and cannot nurse their new baby. There are situations when formula is a saving grace.
If you have a baby that requires incredibly specialized formula the costs are going to be significant. You can get samples, but chances are you will need to shell out some serious cash to feed your child. However, if you are able to use traditional formula with your baby there are ways to keep the costs down.
1. Ask for samples. Chances are you got a ton when you delivered, in the mail unexpectedly, from your pediatrician (in the breastfeeding mother's gift) and possibly from other places. We had given ours all away when we found ourselves needing formula. I started asking when I went for well baby checkups. I was always able to get a can or so and every day of free formula was a blessing. You can also request samples from manufacturers and retailers on their websites.
2. Go generic. Formula is regulated and must meet specific nutrition marks. As we tried different brands (generic and different store brands) it quickly became apparent that Target's brand was like one big name and Wal-mart/Sam's club's was like another. And really, how many different plants are really producing the formula? Chances are many are made at the same location, just labeled differently. When you break down the unit cost it becomes obvious that there are huge savings by choosing generics.
3. Do not fall for the 12 months and up formula. Seriously, what a smart way to make you spend more money than you need to! Switch to milk as you child is ready, typically around 12 months. Feel free to buy them the best organic milk you can and still save money over formula!
4. Don't forget freecycle! I posted that I needed formula and was graced with a few sample cans that other families didn't want. I also found a set of sample cans at a rummage sale and was able to buy them for $1. I wouldn't take open formula, unless it was from a friend, but if it is sealed, there are no issues with the can and it is not expired why not save some money?
5. Forgot this, but it almost seems to easy....buy the powdered and mix your own formula. I cannot believe how expensive the pre-mixed, pre-measured formula is. What a crazy amount to pay for a few seconds of convenience!
Again, the most frugal way to feed your baby is with your own body. The relationship is wonderful, even if it can be challenging at first. Get help, get advice, and get educated. The more you learn about the benefits of breast milk to baby and benefits of nursing to mom the more obvious it becomes that breastfeeding is the way to go! And the cost savings are incredibly significant as well. The average costs of basic formula for 12 months is approximately $1,500. Of course, you then have to add in the costs of bottles and other equipment. And personally, I found it to be much more challenging to deal with formula and bottles. The diaper bag was so much lighter and easier to pack when I was nursing and could just run out the door!
As mom's we are all doing the best we can and I am not trying come off as judgmental towards those who use formula, especially in light of the fact that we ended up relying on it too. I just want to point out that the most frugal way to feed your baby is breastfeeding. Families who can, should and as a society we should be supportive of those moms. It would be great to see breastfeeding become the norm for every baby. Can you imagine how different it would be if it was unusual to see formula or bottles? If there were only 2-4 people in a hospital that could really explain how to feed a baby using formula? If it was highly unusual for WIC to ever pay for formula and there was no need to budget for it? If people gave you 'looks' if they saw a can in your diaper bag? Feeding babies would be a very different experience. Oh, so much more than I should be talking about in this post :)
If you have no choice, then do all you can to keep the costs of formula low and snuggle in for every feeding just like if you were nursing. Babies become toddlers very quickly! And (from what I hear) toddlers will soon become teenagers who eat me out of house and home...
To read other mom's experiences with breastfeeding check out Modern Alternative Mama's link-up.