Monday, October 22, 2007

The pumping puzzle: how much is my milk really worth?

Breastfeeding isn't just "best for baby," it gets me the most bang for my buck. Right? Well, yeah. But the cost savings aren't as dramatic as I'd hoped.

I'm returning to work in two weeks and planning to pump for at least a couple of months. I'm dedicated to nursing, but my breastpump doesn't engender the same warm fuzzy feelings as my baby, so I decided to calculate how much I'm saving by pumping versus supplementing while my child is in my husband's or daycare provider's care. I figured that putting a dollar amount to my efforts would solidify my commitment to pump. I could add up the savings and treat myself to a little shopping spree with the cash I'd saved by not buying formula. (And in case you're wondering, I'm not figuring in the cost of the pump since it already paid for itself with baby #1.)

So here goes. The first real math I'd done since high school calculus.

First, let's assume Baby A will drink three 4-ounce bottles while I am at work, for a total of 12 ounces of milk while I'm away. A 25.7oz (large) can of Enfamil or Similac formula costs $22.99 on sale at Walgreens. You can prepare 160 fluid ounces per can, and assuming none gets wasted, that works out to 13 days worth of daycare/daddy care supplementation. Which means I'm saving a grand total of $2.00 per workday by pumping. Yikes, I don't even earn a latte for my efforts!

Depressing, huh? It gets better. In my efforts to make sure Baby A accepts a bottle when I return to work, I've been pumping at home and saving the excess. I've got a freezer full of expressed milk in zipper bags--probably 250-300 ounces worth. I, like many moms in my position, like to refer to it as liquid gold, but it's probably only the nutritional equivalent of $40 worth of powdered formula.

Now I have saved a significant pile of money by breastfeeding Baby A exclusively for the first three months of her life: $400 by even the most conservative estimates. And that doesn't account for all of the breastmilk she's drunk, spit-up and demanded more of. That'll buy me a new winter coat and some cute cashmere cold weather accessories, but no luxury vacation.

Yet, while I'm only earning about $4 an hour for sitting in a windowless, featureless room with a mechanical milking machine hooked up to my boobs, I still feel a compulsion to keep it up, at least for a little while. Maybe I feel like I can't supplement my second kid more than I did my first. Maybe I'm doing it for the feeling of accomplishment I get from nourishing my children, even when I am away. Surely a big part of it is my desire to keep my supply up enough that I won't have to mix up and and warm up a bottle of formula in the middle of the night. (I'm lazy like that.)

But can I say I'm doing it to save money? Not so much, unfortunately.

Cross-posted to Chicago Moms Blog