The question of how to feed a child is as old as time. But the economics behind it are back in the spotlight following a news report that the U.S. government opposed an international resolution supporting breastfeeding and limiting inaccurate marketing of alternatives.
The debate over breast milk versus baby formula stirs arguments about the health effects and convenience of each. But it also raises the question about what we pay to feed babies.
“Cost plays an important role in the decision between whether to nurse or formula-feed,” said Carrie Johnson, an assistant professor of human development and family science at North Dakota State University. “But breastfeeding isn’t always what you think of as free.”
Some women don’t have a choice; they have to buy formula due to a medical condition (theirs or their babies’), an aversion to breastfeeding or limited time because of their jobs.
Infant formula – such as Similac, Gerber, Enfamiland Earth’s Best –– costs an average of $1,200-$1,500 for a baby’s first year, according to the U.S. Surgeon General. It’s that kind of outlay that has fueled sales of formula, now a $2.3 billion industry in the U.S., according to market research firm IBISWorld.
And both methods can have long-term economic consequences, whether it’s increased risk for food allergies for formula-fed babies, or lost income for mothers taking time off to pump, according to experts.
For formula feeding on the less expensive end, there are store brands like Target’s Up & Up, which starts around $16 for a 22.5-ounce container. More expensive options include special recipes that are non-GMO, organic, reflux-fighting or designed for infants with special nutritional needs, such as Similac Alimentum for babies with protein sensitivity (a 12.1-ounce tub for around $26) and Enfamil PurAmino for those with severe cow’s milk protein and other allergies (about $45 for a 14.1-ounce container).
Also throw in the cost of baby bottles and their upkeep — items like sterilizers ($20-$70), warmers ($25-$70), cleaning brushes ($3 and up) and travel containers ($4 plus).
As for breastfeeding, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevents show that among American children born between 2002 and 2014, it steadily rose. The percentage of babies who were exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives, for example, jumped from 10.3 percent to close to 24.9 percent.
Breastfeeding also comes with costs. While the Affordable Care Act requires health insurance companies to cover breast pumps, a woman may have to pay for a lactation consultant if she needs help. She’ll need nursing bras ($15-$70) and nursing pads ($5 and up) to put in those bras –– and maybe nipple cream ($7.50 plus), a pump bustier (about $30) and milk storage bags (starting at $9). Optional accessories include a nursing pillow ($25-40) and a modesty drape ($13-$25), though those could be replaced with a strategically-placed rolled-up towel and an large square scarf.
Johnson estimates that the cost of breastfeeding for a year can reach $1,000.
And taking time away from work to pump can impact one’s earnings in the short term and the long-term. For example, a saleswoman working on commission isn’t making money in the lactation room nor is a lawyer who bills in six-minute increments.
The big-picture negative economic impact extends to formula feeding, too: the possibility of more food allergies and less skin-to-skin bonding with the baby
“It’s a mix of health science and economics,” said Parke Wilde, a professor of food policy at Tufts University, who recommends breastfeeding for mothers’ and infants’ well-being. “It tends be associated with a lower risk of certain types of health problems and feelings of joys and happiness for the mother.”
All of the children are under 4, and several are experiencing kidney failure. Time
Zlati Meyer, USA Today