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Is Breastfeeding Really Free?

Photograph by Getty Images

The estimated cost of formula for the first six months is over $700 dollars, leading many breastfeeding enthusiasts to make the argument: "Why not breastfeed? It's free!"

Personally, I tried my best to breastfeed, not because it was free, but because I thought it would be better for my kid. In the end, it ended up costing me more than I had bargained for, both financially and in terms of my health.

Here's a run-down of all the breastfeeding related costs I racked up in the first six months alone, as well as the one priceless lesson I learned trying to be an exclusive breastfeeder.

$300 Breast Pump

My little one was born jaundiced and tongue-tied, and couldn't stay awake long enough to nurse for those first few weeks, which are the most crucial for building a supply, meaning I had to pump several times a day. Thank goodness for insurance! I was able to score a free breast pump to start saving up milk, but that might not be the case for stay-at-home, uninsured or part-time moms who aren't covered. These things are expensive!

RELATED: 8 Reasons to Formula Feed Your Baby

$100+ Bottles, Milk Heater, Cleaners, Drying Rack

Initially I went with a cheaper version of the bottle heater, but after it nearly caught fire I upgraded, and also had to switch bottles to avoid nipple confusion.

$15 Breast Milk Storage Bags

Sadly, I never got a chance to use these because my supply was so low, but my producing friends go through at least a box a month, so almost $100 for the first six months.

$25 Pumping Bra #1: Medela Hands-Free Pumping Bra

Wow! I can now pump hands-free, but this thing is not exactly user friendly. First you can't get it on, then you can't get it off, and you have to strip down each time you want to pump. Who the heck designed this thing?! I used it a handful of times and donated it.

$35 Pumping Bra #2: Hands-free Crossover Pumping Bra #2.

Ah! I no longer look and feel like a boob. This is a keeper! Now if only some milk would start coming.

$100 Lactation Consultant Visit #1

Turns out, Hugo isn't latching properly, which is why I look like I've been mauled by a piranha and am coming up short on my milk goals. The visit includes a weighing, some nipple pads (usually $10) and a nipple shield (usually $15).

Because my sister-in-law swears these coconut oil, cranberry oatmeal cookies made her pump gallons. In my case, I see results, but mostly in my hips.

$18" Mother Food" book by Hillary Jacobson

This awesome book has scientifically-based milk-boosting recipes from around the world. It also explains why my all-natural birthing experience may be partially responsible for low supply.

$200 Groceries

After reading "Mother Food" my mom goes nuts and buys $200 worth of dates, figs, walnuts, almonds, molasses, barley, ginger, flax oil, and luckily, champagne! I eat like a queen, but still pump like a miser.

$20 Motherlove Tincture, 3 Bottles

Some women swear by this stuff, I found it didn't make that much of a difference, save increasing my water intake to wash the taste out of my mouth. Ugh.

$15 Lactation Cookie Ingredients

Because my sister-in-law swears these coconut oil, cranberry oatmeal cookies made her pump gallons. In my case, I see results, but mostly in my hips.

$20 Co-pay for Psychological Services

Breastfeeding is seriously stressful, and between the lack of sleep and private time, I am starting to feel stressed and depressed. My psychologist reassures me it's normal, and we enjoy small talk while my breasts take a small baby break.

$100 Lactation Consultant Visit #2

Hugo's latch is improving, but my production still sucks, and I am plagued by clogged ducts. My nurse recommends Sunflower Lecithin to make my milk smoother.

$30 Sunflower Lecithin, 3 Bottles

This stuff is amazing! My clogged ducts disappear and never come back, saving me from spending money on doctor's appointments and antibiotics for mastitis, which has been described to me as the most painful thing you can imagine. Keep in mind, this description comes from moms who have just given birth. I take it religiously! Most women I know end up getting mastitis at least once, and it sets them back at least $50 in doctor's visits and medicine.

$35 Pumping Bra #3: Hands-free Crossover Pumping Bra

Who has time to do laundry? I decide to splurge on a second bra because mine is getting a little funky… And because I seriously cannot remember the last time I washed anything other than baby bottles.

$50 Yellow Croaker, Pig Trotters and Sesame Oil

After a Chinese friend bragged about how she pumped hundreds of ounces after eating yellow croaker soup my husband goes on a shopping spree. We eat yellow croaker with soybeans, pig trotters and lots of veggies sautéed in sesame oil. No increase, except in the dog's output, as I fed him all my trotters under the table.

$20 Rescue Remedy

"Maybe your problem is stress…" my mother, the psychologist, suggests. Stress can inhibit production and let down. Turns out, it helps! I pump more than 4 ounces for the first time ever.

$300 Dark Beer

Somewhere early in my research I read that dark beer increases milk and supports let down, so I diligently drank one bottle of really good dark beer during my late night pumping sessions. Did it really help? It's hard to say. But with the pressure of breastfeeding this was a well-deserved treat, and is only slightly more expensive than a biweekly trip to a psychologist.

$90 Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV for six months

Baby is sleeping better, but I am still trying desperately to be 100% mother's milk. I stay up late and get up at night to pump, and consume an insane amount of television.

$100 Lactation Consultant Visit #3

Still no huge increase. My LC suggests lactation tea, as well as Domperidone or Reglan and APNO—All Purpose Nipple Cream. I call my doctor and get some prescriptions. She also suggests renting a hospital grade pump to increase my supply further…

RELATED: Why You Should Fire Your Lactation Consultant

$200 Lactation Tea for 5 months (at four cups a day)

This stuff is not all that great, but it helps with water intake and is more appealing than pig trotter soup…

$20 All Purpose Nipple Ointment

This stuff is amazing and works ten times better than lanolin or the other nipple balms. I immediately see if I can get another bottle at $20 while I still have insurance! Without, it costs over $100!

$150 Domperidone, 2 Boxes

FINALLY an increase! I am thrilled. Except when I read about how it inhibits weight loss in some women. Oh well! Baby comes first!

$115 Hospital-Grade Pump ($75 per month, plus $45 for attachments)

A lifelong high achiever, I immediately start power pumping: five minutes on, five minutes off. The novelty of this high-tech gadget wears off quickly. Turns out, even with the best tools constant pumping is still a pain in the boobs.

The mental, physical and financial costs of breastfeeding haven't dissuaded me from nursing, but they did make me more compassionate, towards moms who choose to stay home, those who go back to work, those who decide not to nurse, and perhaps most importantly, myself.

$100 Lactation Consultant Visit #4

Alright! We are on the up and up! Baby is gaining, he's almost off supplemental formula, and by getting up several times while baby sleeps I am pumping enough to feed him during the day. Sleep be damned! The LC suggests several supplements that may help further boost my supply.

$80 Alfalfa Tablets, Goat's Rue Tea and Black Seed

I'd read about Alfalfa, but when my dad chimes in that that's what Germans now feed the cows on the milk farm I am sold! The Goat's Rue tea is even worse than the nursing tea, but I see just enough results to keep at it. Black Seed, which is said to increase mammary tissue, did help a little… at least enough to warrant a second bottle.

$75 Freemie Breast Pump

Now, this is a game changer! After one too many awkward encounters of people walking in to see Baby while I was pumping I decided to splurge on Freemies, a pump attachment that can be worn under your shirt. I love it, and start entertaining friends during dinner parties while pumping. You know how they say that happy cows make milk? Turns out it's true of humans, too!

$40 Baby Scale

My milk is getting there, and going to the hospital for weigh-ins is starting to weigh on me. A cheap scale from China set us back $40, but doubled as a cute photo prop.

$50 Oatmeal

My goodness. Oatmeal is supposed to be cheap, isn't it? Not if you eat it in bulk. Moms keep on swearing by it, and frankly, it's cheaper and less annoying than taking all those supplements. No change, but at this point, I have no idea what's helping what anyways.

RELATED: The Truth About Breastfeeding: First It's Hard, Then It Isn't

$20 Co-pay for Psychological Services

After months of staying up at night to pump, I've started to dream that I am a cow… Perhaps it's time to relax a little. After finally sleeping more than six hours a few nights in a row my supply shoots through the roof. Perhaps that was what was missing all along?

Total cost of nursing for six months: over $2,000

After six months I made a decided effort to stop trying so hard to breastfeed. My LO was already happily munching on solids, and is perfectly content to snack on the boob. I no longer feel like his life depends on me. Overall, nursing cost me over $2,000, three times the cost of formula feeding!

Before I ever had my baby, I met an expectant mom in baby class who, when asked whether or not she would nurse, stated without hesitation or shame: "No! I tried it before and it didn't work." I thought she was crazy. Six months into my own breastfeeding journey I could totally see where she was coming from, and also had to admit to the fact that I allowed breastfeeding to make me crazy.

So, will I nurse my next baby? If my body permits it, absolutely! The mental, physical and financial costs of breastfeeding haven't dissuaded me from nursing, but they did make me more compassionate, towards moms who choose to stay home, those who go back to work, those who decide not to nurse, and perhaps most importantly, myself. I may not be the lean mean nursing machine I had imagined, but anyone who can create life and take care of the most helpless creature on the planet deserves nothing but respect.

Image via Flickr user Aurimas Mikalauskas

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