Unexpectedly Intriguing!
13 April 2009

FNS.gov Poster 354 - Fathers and Breastfeeding Why don't more mothers exclusively breastfeed their children for the full 12 months recommended by the American Association of Pediatricians?

It's true! The Centers for Disease Control confirms that nationally, just 31.5% of 3-month old babies are exclusively breastfed, which drops to 11.5% for 6-month olds.

Meanwhile, if we look at the percentage that are ever breastfed, we find that while 74.2% of all babies are breastfed through part of their lives, at six months of age, just 43.1% are still receiving some of their sustenance through breastfeeding, which drops to 21.4% of one-year olds.

But more than that, those declines exist over time even as there's an amazing amount of social pressure put upon mothers to breastfeed in the U.S., including increasing levels of government-backed pressure to impose and enforce the practice on mothers.

But are they justified? Does the data back up these activists and public officials? Or are they just being a bunch of breastfeeding nazis?

FDA - Baby Bottle with Milk It turns out that the data doesn't back them up as much as they think it does. Hanna Rosin reports (HT: Marginal Revolution) that a lot of the science upon which the claims of studies suggesting the advantages of breastfeeding over formula-feeding is not as well-founded as advocates argue, as the data upon which they're based has not been controlled well enough to support their conclusions. These studies, in other words, have too many loose ends.

For our part though, we're going to take a closer look at the cost aspect of breastfeeding vs formula to see how well those claims are supported.

Here, on the formula side, you just need to enter the unit cost of formula per ounce and the average daily amount of formula consumed each day (assuming one-year of formula consumption) into the tool below. On the breastfeeding side, please enter the average amount of time required for each breastfeeding as well as the average number of breastfeedings per day. We'll take all your numbers and work out all the annual costs involved....

Formula Data
Input Data Values
Unit Cost of Formula [USD per ounce]
Average Amount of Formula per Day (during one year) [ounces]
Breastfeeding Data
Average Number of Breastfeedings per Day (during one year)
Average Time for Each Breastfeeding [minutes]

Breastfeeding vs Formula Cost Results
Calculated Results Values
Total Amount of Formula Consumed in One Year [ounces]
Annual Cost of Formula [USD]
Approximate Number of Feedings
Total Amount of Time Spent Breastfeeding [hours]
Savings per Hour Breastfeeding [USD/hour]
Savings per Breastfeeding [USD]

In the tool above, we've presented our final cost results in the measure of cost of formula per hour of breastfeeding and the cost of formula per each breastfeeding. Compare these values to the amount you might otherwise earn per hour by working or the cost of a meal for yourself or your child (when they switch to solid food) to help decide if the money you might save by exclusively breastfeeding is genuinely worth it.

Update 4 June 2009: One of our readers, a new parent, points to a 1970 paper which finds that women who are lactating need an additional 600 calories per day, which means that mothers who breastfeed frequently eat more than mothers who bottle feed, further decreasing any real cost savings for breastfeeding! In their words:

Assuming a 2000 cal diet, that's a 30% increase in caloric intake that probably maps pretty straight to the grocery bill. Anecdotally, this matches up with what I've seen from friends and family.

For our bottom line, we find that while there are advantages and disadvantages to both breastfeeding and formula where giving sustenance to infants is involved, but at this point, none of those things justify government mandates dictating which method parents might choose to feed their children.

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