Adjust the salary slider to see the value of your time if you were to breastfeed for six months.
Median annual salary of women in the United States
Each woman’s experience is unique. Below, I describe how my expenses and the cost of my time break down month by month.
+$636.37, including $100.70 to upgrade an insurance-covered breast pump; nursing bras; and formula in case we need it as a safety net
As I learned four years ago, when I came home from the hospital with my first baby and a pair of cracked, bleeding nipples, the idea of breastfeeding like a happy miracle is a fantasy. A 2005 study in the medical journal Pediatrics found that one of the main reasons women stopped breastfeeding was physical pain. This time I started investing to keep my baby and myself healthy before my son arrives.
I stocked my medicine cabinet with products: soothing lanolin cream, patches of healing gel, and nipple shields that made me look like Madonna in a cone bra. Some of these items are eligible for purchase with funds from tax-advantaged health savings accounts – a benefit that, as more and more common, is by no means universal. Out of pocket, they cost a lot: supplies that should be recognized as essentials but can easily seem like luxuries the more they add up.
+$257.94including $100 travel expenses for a home visit by a lactation consultant
+123 hours 42 minutes feeding with milk
+2 hours 19 minutes pumping
It’s no exaggeration to say that breastfeeding a newborn is a full-time job, especially in the beginning.
In the month following my son’s return from the hospital, I spent the equivalent of three working weeks caring for him, sometimes up to five hours a day. Much of this time was spent in the evening when, like many babies, he cluster flow – eat for hours before finally falling asleep. (No wonder women frequently cite concerns about their milk supply as a reason to stop breastfeeding.)
It helped that my husband had three months of paid parental leave – and used it. Ten percent of dads in the United States do not take time off after the birth of their children. Seventy percent take 10 days or less. Even those with more employer-provided time off don’t always take it, whether because the leave is unpaid or because of social or professional pressure. It was so precious to have my husband home to look after our 3 year old, make sure I ate and stay hydrated, and take care of diaper changes in the middle of the night.
Another incredible advantage: the lactation consultants at the Breastfeeding Center for Greater Washington are networked on my insurance. A few days after we returned from the hospital, a former labor and delivery nurse came to our home, made sure my son was breastfeeding well and transferring milk well, and made sure of my well-being. . I paid $100 out of pocket to cover his travel expenses, but without insurance the visit would have cost three times as much.
+$48.85 for lactation tea, bottle teats and nursing pads
+82 hours 17 minutes feeding with milk
+7 hours 42 minutes pumping
As babies grow, they eat faster and more efficiently. But after childbirth, mothers’ bodies still have a lot of work to do.
The standard sick leave for a vaginal birth is six weeks, with an additional two weeks for recovery after a caesarean section. Given the extent of changes to a woman’s body during pregnancy and labor, as well as the enormous work she does during childbirth and the wide variety of postpartum health consequences, that doesn’t really seem to be enough. This is especially true if a woman uses her body to produce the food that keeps someone else alive.
I live in DC, which pays a little over $1,000 maximum per week in salary to new parents for eight weeks; employers can pay the remainder of an employee’s salary during this period and also offer longer paid holidays. But for women who don’t have paid time off to bond with their babies during and after these recovery times, and whose families depend on their income, taking non-medical leave might not be a viable choice.
It can be difficult to determine exactly when women return to work after giving birth; women’s participation in the workforce, laws, cultural norms and corporate policies have changed so much over the past few generations. But one analysis of 2001 headcount data published in 2008 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 7% of mothers were working just one month after giving birth and 26% returned to work after two months.
+$51.08 for lactation tea and more bottles
+64 hours 30 minutes feeding with milk
+8 hours pumping
After a few months, babies begin to smile and interact. At this point, my son was breastfeeding fast enough that I had time to start appreciating his emerging personality.
The fact that the United States is the rare country without government-guaranteed paid maternity leave is repeated ad nauseam in family policy debates. Instead, the Family and Medical Leave Act gives most new parents 12 weeks of unpaid job protection, leaving it up to each family to decide whether they can afford to take that time. My employer offers parents of all genders paid time off to spend with their new children. But if I had to take unpaid time to bond with my son — beyond the eight weeks of medical leave provided by DC — I would have spent a lot more time thinking about what that precious time meant to me. has cost in terms of lost revenue.
+$151.85including new valves for my manual breast pump and some extra nursing bras, given my son’s tendency to spit on me and my desire not to do laundry every day
+60 hours 13 minutes feeding with milk
+13 hours 26 minutes pumping
There are many wonderful things to have what, by American standards, is “generous” maternity leave. Top of that list for me was having to put off regular pumping of breast milk for someone else to feed my baby.
Expressing milk is hard, even with improvements in breast pump technology. There’s no getting around what it entails: having a very sensitive part of your body pulled through a plastic tube 30 or more times a minute, for half an hour at a time. I have never had an experience that made me feel so much sympathy for factory farmed animals.
And while it’s wonderful for a baby to bond with other people through feeding, adding bottles to the routine doesn’t mean a mom recoups her time. According to some estimates, healthy babies who suckle well draw milk from their mother’s breasts twice as fast as a breast pump. Some women don’t respond well to pumps, which means they have to spend even more time pumping than they would while breastfeeding, or pumping even more frequently than their baby is feeding from a bottle.
+$111.51, including fenugreek tea and brewer’s yeast that I add to oatmeal chocolate chip cookies; both are thought to stimulate milk production, and even if they don’t, the cookies taste great
+54 hours 3 minutes feeding with milk
+8 hours 54 minutes pumping
I went back to work. This transition has been made easier because The Post has comfortable, dedicated pumping rooms for breastfeeding mothers, which include sinks and microwaves that we can use to clean the pump parts, and refrigerators to store expressed milk. This is more than required by federal law, which only states that employers must ensure that women who want to pump have a private place to do so, and it’s not a bathroom. If that space is a shared conference room, or full of computer servers, or cold, well, never mind.
For best results while pumping – an unsightly experience at best – it helps to be relaxed. It’s hard if you have to ignore office chatter, quickly cover up if a co-worker with a key breaks into your “private” room, or balance yourself awkwardly to avoid spilling breast milk if there’s no table available – while plugged into what looks like industrial equipment. Yet, for anyone who wishes to continue breastfeeding exclusively, the expression is mandatory: if a woman does not continue to withdraw milk from her breasts, her body will stop making it. For too many women in the United States, that means enduring conditions that are uncomfortable at best if they want to continue breastfeeding after returning to work.
+$81.06including new valves and tubing for my electric breast pump, which become less efficient as these parts wear out
+49 hours 36 minutes feeding with milk
+11 hours pumping
Unlike the first time I had a baby, when I returned to the office, this time I continued to work from home twice a week. It sets me apart from the 60% of Americans who have a job. they can’t play from home. On the days I work from home, I can breastfeed instead of pumping.
Not all jobs offer the flexibility that comes with writing and writing reports. While working on this column, I groomed my son during a Food and Drug Administration Zoom briefing on efforts to address the formula shortage and pumped while watching a hearing on the budget request. of the agency for the coming year. But many of the other amenities and perks that allowed me to breastfeed my children should be standards, not wonderful aberrations.
Not all mothers want to breastfeed. Not all parents can. But for those of us who do, breastfeeding is anything but free. A society that truly values breastfeeding would assume some of the costs associated with nursing, rather than pretending they don’t exist.