Study Reveals ‘Hidden Costs’ of Breastfeeding

Infant formula may cost money, but breastfeeding is hardly “free,” according to a new study by researchers at the University of Iowa.

The study found that formula-feeders (i.e., mothers who never breastfed), short-duration breastfeeders (i.e., mothers who breastfed for fewer than six months), and long-duration breastfeeders (i.e., mothers who breastfed for six months or longer) all experienced earnings losses after giving birth. However, on average, long-duration breastfeeders experienced much steeper and more prolonged earnings losses than did mothers who breastfed for shorter durations or not at all.

“When people say breastfeeding is free, I think their perspective is that one doesn’t have to buy anything to breastfeed whereas one needs to purchase formula and bottles to formula-feed,” sociologist Phyllis L. F. Rippeyoung said in a press release.

Mary C. Noonan, the study’s co-author, added, “Breastfeeding for six months or longer is only free if a mother’s time is worth absolutely nothing.”

Image: Breastfeeding mother, via Shutterstock.


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  1. by Eve

    On April 27, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    “Breastfeeding for six months or longer is only free if a mother’s time is worth absolutely nothing.”

    This quote from the article is were the writer goes wrong. A mother’s time is quite valuable, unfortunately in our capitalist system if we cannot monetize something, it is then deemed that it is “worth absolutely nothing”. Obviously, that thinking is not correct.

  2. by Jody

    On April 29, 2012 at 8:59 am

    I can see the truth in this. I work fulltime and my company requires that you go off the clock if you want to pump. Over a year’s time that could mean a noticible loss in pay.

  3. by Dionne

    On April 29, 2012 at 9:06 am

    I am still nursing my son at 2 1/2 years. I am a school teacher, which means I bring home a lot of “creeping crud” from my students. Aside from the pump, which I invested in knowing I planned to nurse a long time, & the freezer storage bags, the only cost I feel I’ve incurred is the loss of time to grade, especially at school. I no longer use the pump, but I feel it was all worthwhile knowing my son’s immune system is top notch & that he has received all the benefits offered by breast feeding. He’s incredibly healthy, happy, smart, & rarin’ to go! If you can, I recommend you “waste your money” by nursing. I don’t mind “not being worthwhile” if it means HE gets what HE needs.

  4. by Katrina

    On April 29, 2012 at 9:16 am

    Can the bond and benefits of longer term breastfeeding be monetized to show what could be lost by only bottle feeding or short term breastfeeding? Why isn’t a study like this a catalyst for paid maternity leaves, mother’s rooms and accommodations in the workplace, and a greater respect for what is best mother and child?

  5. by Rebekka

    On April 29, 2012 at 9:43 am

    Clearly, the mothers time is not worth nothing, however it is also not wasted for you are feeding your baby. If you are formula feeding your baby, you are spending even more time MAKING the bottle THEN feeding the baby.. The bond and long term effects should be worth the time you are spending to breastfeed. Can these people not find somethIng more useful to do studies on?

  6. by Evie

    On April 29, 2012 at 11:12 am

    I’m a nursing mother. I nursed my first child for 19 months and will try to nurse my baby (who is 10mths old) for the same amount of time.

    I feel like this article is biased. I understand pumping at work takes time but in their attempt to factor in everything (mothers time spent) they fail to realize that babies do not nurse as much after they start solid foods (4mths of age).

    Lets assume a baby nurses every 3 hours (my 10 mth old does and has since she was born). If the average working mother works 8hr days 5 days a week then she is pumping twice while working (if she pumps just before punching in at 8am and pumps at 5 after she has punched out). Depending on the type of pump the mother has will determine how long she pumps. If she has an electric pump it will allow her to pump from both breasts at the same time. If she has a manual pump it will take twice the time. Pumping usually takes 10 min (total or on each side). So if a mother pumps at work twice a day it will take 20min – 40min total time. Some mothers might eat lunch while pumping the first time so that time would be considered as part of their lunch break and they would not have been paid for it anyway. But lets assume she doesn’t. So in a weeks time time used would range from 1hr 40min – 3hrs and 20 min. Over a year 86.66 hrs (10.83days)- 173.33(21.66 days).

    Over time I can see how that would add up. Now lets add up how much time she is going to lose should she not breastfeed her child. A child who’s mother is working more then likely is in daycare and children who are in daycare tend to get sick very often. The average child gets sick every other week it seems according to these mothers and it takes usually about 3 days for a child to get better; that’s 6 days a month or 72days away from work to care for the sick child.

    A child who is breastfed has a stronger immune system and gets sick less often and takes less time to get better. I think most employers would prefer a mother to be off the clock for a few min to pump to provide her child with the best source of nutrition and antibodies then be gone for work for days because their child is always sick.

  7. by Yvette

    On April 29, 2012 at 11:15 am

  8. by Alice

    On April 29, 2012 at 11:25 am

    Eve, you’re spot on!

  9. by Margaret

    On April 29, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Seriously?? Breast fed babies are far healthier than formula fed babies, resulting in untold savings in medical costs both while nursing and in future years. Babies who are nursed are less apt to have food allergies and asthma, less apt to develop chronic ear infections, and less apt to have a long list of other medical conditions later in life. Breast fed babies also benefit academically. It has been reported that breast fed babies have IQs about 10 points higher than formula fed babies. There is also a correlation between formula fed babies and later development of MS with more MS in countries with fewer breast fed babies. Women who nurse also experience significant health benefits including a lower risk of breast cancer. In addition, breast feeding causes a release of “feel good” hormones during nursing which help the mother relax. This will never occur when formula feeding. All told, breast is always best.

  10. by Nicole Jayne

    On April 29, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    Well it sure is easy to put a number on how much time and money a mother “loses” when she could be working… How about putting a monetary value on the bonding a mother and her child feel while breast feeding? I breast fed my son for 18 months (he is almost 2 now) and has never had anything more than a cold. I will never feed my future children formula either if I can help it. I feel this article was written by someone who got a kick back from a company that produces formula.

  11. by Elizabeth

    On May 1, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    Wow, that last statement there is not only rude, it is completly wrong. there is no worth of time when it comes to your child. I chose not to go back to work, stayed home and breast fed for 11 months, I actually didnt spent maybe the cost of a boppy, and some receiving blankets on breast feeding, she never took from the bottle, and while yes I was on call at all times as far as feeding, we saved money in doctors visits, she never had to go, otc meds, since even teething caused her very little discomfort, childcare would’ve never been an option, thankfully of course, I feel this statistic is extremely off, and poorly reported. Also can we do a long term study if we will follow the final all in all cost of breastfeeding vs. formula. For instance my daughter is 5, she has had no infections, and very rarely gets a cold. She did get swine flu in 2010 from VPk, and actually only had a runny nose and fever from it lol! She has no cavities, her height is average, and so is her weight. She is an excellent little athlete, no asthma, whereas asthma runs in my family. So where is the long term study? Back to my point of a “mother’s time is worth absolutely nothing”, Holly Lebowitz Rossi, if you put your time before your children, you are a poor example of a mother. I %100 agree with the earlier post, why don’t the work places let you stay on the clock, why is there no tax deduction for doing whats healthiest for your child, like we have on our insurance if you go to the gym?? How about the mothers whose time is being wasted at the job, and not with there child?? I feel there are so many people who feel a slight guilt trip from not breastfeeding, writer’s such as Holly create some idiotic report of a survey, which cannot be complete until all, and I mean all cots are examined. Breastfeeding is better. Point blank. However you may choose to feed formula, you may have no other choice due to meds. Or you just don’t want to. But this article summing up that oh now it is more expensive?! Oh give me a break. God Bless those mothers who know it is more expensive, according to this article, and continue to do it! Especially those clocking out to pump in some break room!!

  12. by Ma

    On May 1, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    In my role as a mother, the most important thing I do is to support my child’s longterm health and happiness, so something like breastfeeding (which boosts immunity, prevents allergies among other things – all longterm cost savers, enhancing the mother’s mental health) is not costly – it’s priceless.

  13. by Lauren

    On May 1, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    I would like to move that this article be removed from It is poorly researched and does not support any parent, regardless of their choice.