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These Money-Saving Ideas Will Help You Nurse — or Bottle Feed — for Less

Catherine Hiles and her daughter Rose at a park
Catherine Hiles breastfed as well as formula fed her first child Rose and found ways to make both options affordable. Photo by JLT Photography


When I was pregnant with my first child, I decided I was going to exclusively breastfeed. I read books and attended classes at the hospital. I stocked up on bottles, a sanitizer and breast pads. I felt prepared to provide my baby with the natural nutrition she needed.

But then my daughter, Rose, was born. I had trouble producing milk right from the beginning. In her first week of life, she struggled to get back to her birth weight as I tried and tried to produce the food she needed.

I went to numerous appointments with lactation specialists, tried pumping every hour when I wasn’t feeding and made really gross oatmeal and cookies from ingredients meant to increase milk supply. Nothing worked. While I could produce some milk, it wasn’t enough.

The first time I gave Rose formula, I cried. I felt like a failure. I had prepared to breastfeed in every way I could, but my body just wasn’t able to do what I thought it should naturally know how to do.

Over time, though, I realized that Rose didn’t care that she sometimes drank formula and sometimes breast milk. She was just happy to be fed at all. And I realized what I should have known all along — fed is best.

Once Rose turned 6 months old, she was exclusively formula-fed. The only downside to this was the cost.

When you formula feed, you have to buy formula, which costs money (duh). But breastfeeding expenses can add up as well.

Breastfeeding

pumped breast milk and a great pump is seen on a kitchen counter
 Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

If you plan on continuing to breastfeed when you go back to work, you’ll need to invest in a breast pump.

Breast pumps come in many shapes, sizes and price points. The most basic manual pumps are pretty affordable, but if you’re pumping three times a day at work you’ll need to invest in an electric pump, which will cost more.

Depending on the type and brand of electric pump you get, you could easily end up spending a few hundred dollars. On Target’s website, electric breast pumps range from about $100 to $360.

However, if you have health insurance, you could be eligible for a free breast pump. According to Healthcare.gov, “Your health insurance plan must cover the cost of a breast pump.” To see the types of breast pumps you can get, contact your insurance provider directly.

Rather than buying disposable breast pads, I decided to make fabric ones. I took some soft fleece and some flannel and cut it in circles, layering them and sewing them together. A quick Google search returns numerous patterns, so you can choose what works for you.

If you’re not crafty, you can also buy reusable nursing pads. They’ll cost more than homemade, but if you go through a lot you’ll still save money over the disposable pads (and fellow mom, Mother Nature, will thank you).

Formula Feeding

When I bought formula for the first time, I was shocked at how expensive it was. I knew I’d be buying formula for a while, so I started looking for ways to save.

I turned to my good friend Amy Gedeon for advice. She exclusively formula fed her son, Tony, from birth, and is one of the thriftiest people I know.

“When I got further in my pregnancy, since I knew I was going to formula feed, I signed up with every different formula brand. Similac, Enfamil and Gerber were the biggest,” she told me. “About a month before my due date, they all shipped me packages that had sample canisters of different kinds of powder formula, plus some ready-to-feed bottles and a stack of coupons for $5.00 off each container of formula.”

If you’re planning to formula feed either partly or fully, it’s a good idea to sign up before your due date rather than wait until you’re home from the hospital and sleep-deprived. However, bear in mind that your baby may prefer one type of formula over another, so don’t stock up too much on any one kind.

“Once we had him, the hospital provided Similac ready-to-feed formula,” said Gedeon. Tony ended up spending four weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit due to some health concerns, and by the time Gedeon and her husband, Todd, brought him home, Tony was used to the specific ready-to-feed formula.

“The hospital sent me home with about 75 bottles of the ready-to-feed formula, which was a tremendous help in the beginning. I did try powder when we got home, but he spit it up immediately,” said Gedeon.

Once she knew the type of formula Tony liked, she started stocking up on coupons. This is a good strategy even if you get coupons for a different type of formula because you can swap with other moms who have more of the type you need.

“I continued to receive packets of rebate coupons for $5 off each container in the mail for all three brands each month for the first year,” she said. “At the time, several friends and coworkers had little ones too, and we all used different brands, so we started a coupon trading where I would get all of the Similac coupons and trade someone else with the Enfamil, and so on.”

Unsurprisingly, as babies grow, they eat more. Until 4 to 6 months of age when they start on solids, babies’ sole diets will be formula or breastmilk. Even afterward, they need to continue drinking formula or breastmilk until they’re 1 year old. That means a lot of money spent on formula.

Thanks to her couponing strategy, Gedeon never paid full price for formula. “I would get $5 off each container with my rebate coupons, and with my trading I would get around 10 to 15 coupons per month. There were also formula coupons in the Sunday paper for $2 off, and store specific coupons. I would buy seven containers a week and make sure I had seven coupons of some sort, whether it was $5, $3 or $2 off.”

If you don’t know any moms who can help out by giving you coupons, consider reaching out to your social network.

“I posted on social media asking if anyone had rebate coupons available and, to my surprise, people started mailing them to me and I ended up with about 40 or so more coupons, each at $5.00 off.”

Even if you don’t know a lot of moms on Facebook, you can post in local mom groups asking whether anyone has any spare formula coupons. Just make sure you check the group’s rules before posting; some may be fine with it, while others may frown upon it.

What worked for me was buying generic formula from Costco rather than a name brand. Luckily, Rose was fine drinking whatever I offered her, so we didn’t have to stick to one certain brand.

The Kirkland (Costco brand) formula currently costs $49.99 for three 34-ounce canisters, which works out to 49 cents per ounce. By comparison, Target sells Similac Pro-Advance formula in 23.2-ounce canisters for $28.99, which equals $1.25 per ounce. Those savings added up fast and saved me a lot of stress during the year Rose drank formula.

Whether you choose to formula feed, breastfeed or do a little of both, the most important thing is that your baby is fed. If, like me, your plans don’t work out the way you intended when it comes to breastfeeding, you don't have to worry about the unexpected cost of formula if you plan well.

Catherine Hiles is currently expecting baby number two and is feeling much more relaxed this time around about the possibility of formula feeding (though she still plans to try breastfeeding first).

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