How much does it cost to feed a baby formula?

How much does it cost to feed a baby formula? (updated Sept 2017)

Maggie eating ITMama
Baby is so hungry she’s taken to face eating

When we were first looking at formula feeding the immediate results I got off of the Googs was that it was going to bankrupt us and cost thousands a year. This didn’t smell very accurate to me and some of the costs were just way out of line for what I was seeing, still I sort of felt that perhaps they must be right as I was a new dad and did not have this knowledge.

Going by Babycenter’s rule of thumb, you’re looking at 2.5 ounces of food per pound of body weight as a general rule while your child is not eating solids.

Baby is all skin and bones
She’s all skin and bones being formula fed

So let’s look at a scenario for a standard weighted female baby who’s not eating solids over a full year (which is required to get us to our “thousands” scenario.) This isn’t a real-world example for most as they should be eating some solids at four months. Yes four. Screw your six or seven month BS.

At birth we’ll assume seven pounds, and at one year old we’ll assume 23 pounds based on this chart. Other sources I find say they triple their birth weight, so that sounds about right to me. I’ll also assume the rate to be about average that they’re growing, so over the course of 12 months we’ll assume them to add 1.5 pounds per month.

Also as I’m lazy, all months are 30.41 days… so there…

Based on current pricing for Target brand infant formula (this was written in 2014, rechecked 9/26/2017, same price ,) it costs nine cents per ounce of formula produced for your baby. You can get formula for less, but this is what Maggie drank, so it’s what I’ll go with.

Before I start this, keep in mind that growth spurts happen at certain times, do not expect a newborn to eat this much, also at four months you’re introducing solids, so consumption goes way down. As an example of this, at month seven Maggie is drinking at a three to four month rate (based on Babycenter’s formula) and eating solids, and is in the 70th percentile for weight (meaning she’s heavier than most babies although her length evens her out).

How much does it cost to feed a baby formula by month:

Month 1: 7 pounds, 17.5 ounces of formula per day, $1.58 per day, $47.89 this month
Month 2: 8.5 pounds, 21.25 ounces per day, $1.91 per day $58.16 this month
Month 3: 10 pounds, 25 ounces per day, $2.25 per day, $68.42 this month
Month 4: 11.5 pounds, 28.75 ounces per day, $2.59 per day, $78.68 this month
Month 5: 13 pounds, 32.5 ounces per day, $2.93 per day, $88.95 this month
Month 6: 14.5 pounds, 36.25 ounces per day, 3.26 per day, $99.21 this month
Month 7: 16 pounds, 40 ounces per day, $3.60 per day, $109.48 this month
Month 8: 17.5 pounds, 43 ounces per day, $3.94 per day, $119.74 this month
Month 9: 19 pounds, 47.5 ounces per day, $4.28 per day, $130 this month
Month 10: 20.5 pounds, 51.25 ounces per day, $4.61 per day, $140.26 this month
Month 11: 22 pounds, 55 ounces per day, $4.95 per day, $150.53 this month
Month 12: 23.5 pounds, 58.75 ounces per day, $5.29 per day, $160 this month

Specifically related: How much does it cost to feed a baby Enfamil Gentlease

Total on this mythical nothing but formula baby: $1251.32 which jives with the “you’ll spend thousands on formula, go and breastfeed!!!” numbers, but isn’t based in reality when you introduce food into the mix.

At seven months with solid foods in the mix my 18 pound daughter is drinking about 25 ounces a day when she’s really hungry. ITMama has ground up some avocado and peas into a thing we call Peavacado, we’ve got pureed carrots, sweet potatoes, and a whole host of baby food that probably cost less than $10 to purchase, and an hour at max to make and clean up after, and will feed Maggie for the next month or two.

For those on the breadfeeding warwagon I’m not going to disagree that breast is best, but the $1000s on formula argument is invalid for the first year. Based on solid food introduction at four months and that a 22 pound baby is not going to be drinking a 40 every day your total numbers are more in the $400-600 range.

If you’re not a stay at home mom and grab yourself a handy dandy Madela breast pump for $250, your savings have dropped to $150-300 for a year in which you spend an hour to two a day pumping breastmilk.

So, How much does it cost to feed a baby formula? Probably at most $25 a month more than breastfeeding and pumping.

I’ll also throw this into the mix, the numbers were based on ~22 per can of formula, Kirkland’s Infant Formula was $16.99 last I checked (9/26/17), or 29% less expensive which puts the savings right on par with breastfeeding and pumping.

You can get cheaper pumps, and you can get cheaper formula, I’m pretty sure it’ll balance out either way. I’m also sure if you factor in the extra calories a mother has to intake and the time spent pumping or feeding the case could be made it’s significantly less expensive to go the formula route, even to the effect that there’s less resentment… but who knows.

So there’s that.

If you have other numbers that disagree with mine, let me know. I’d love to hear them as you guys are kind of quiet for how many of you actually read the site. That said, this isn’t the page to bash people who choose to breastfeed or not.

  • Welcome to the world of parenting where everyone thinks you’re doing something wrong. Breast is best, but people will be very insensitive when you tell them it didn’t work for your child. We went through it twice with ours. Parents have to do what is required to keep a healthy baby. We should all be supporting each other, not belittling.

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  • Lesley Boaz-Sharon

    I’m just 20 weeks along and already feeling the pressure to breastfeed when people ask. And all the bottles and nipples and formulas! So confusing.

    • Do what works for you and tell anyone who disagrees to go mind their own business. Life’s too short to bother with people who want to tell you how you’re a bad person if you don’t do things exactly the way they want you to.

      Plenty of humans out there raised exclusively on formula, plenty of humans out there raised exclusively on breast milk.

      As for the bottles and nipples, Medela was what worked best for our two kiddos, and slower flow than you think they might need (milk starts coming out the mouth, the nipple flow is too high)

  • Sara Barnson

    As a counterpoint, if your baby needs a hypoallergenic formula then a reasonable estimate for cost is in the low-$3,000 range even accounting for solids. That number is enough to make me whimper a little inside.

    • mamajb

      Some babies are allergic to “hypoallergenic” formulas. These are the babies that will die without breastmilk. And yes, that happens.

  • CB2004

    My son is EBF, but I internally roll my eyes when people say that breastfeeding is free. I have spent ~$200 on clothing to make breastfeeding possible (e.g., nursing bras and tanks). Pump and pumping accessories come to another $250, although most people can take $150 off that by getting a pump through health insurance. That wasn’t an option with our grandfathered plan. The two silver linings on the cost of stuff: (1) we haven’t had to buy as many bottles as we would have if we did formula all the time–so maybe we saved $50 on stuff there and (2) all breastfeeding expenses do come in the form of stuff, so the next baby it really will be free. Like you, I have been highly suspicious of the “thousands of dollars” claims. I suspect we will wind up saving a little $ this way, and maybe even a thousand total if we have a second baby, but we are willing to pay for convenience so the financial savings are definitely not why we breastfeed.

    P.S. I also think the push to EBF rather than do a mix is bunk. Your kid still gets lots of antibodies and REALLY good nutrition if you do a mix. The main reason we don’t is that I easily produce lots of milk and we cloth diaper and EBF makes that a million times easier. Has almost nothing to do with baby’s health. (Although baby’s health is why we don’t do full formula).

    • CB2004

      Also, just to clarify, we BF for baby’s health, but no judgment for those who choose otherwise. No one likes to hear this, but sometimes the best decision for your family is not the best decision for the baby. Formula is a compromise but it is not evil. Maybe next baby we’ll be crazy and have to do formula for our sanity. Who knows. Life happens. Live and let live.

      • redbean

        Yep, you are right, and also I’d add that BF vs formula feeding is sometimes not a choice. Sometimes the baby has problems that stem from the womb or from delivery; sometimes the mom can’t produce enough milk. A good article here –

        • mamajb

          It is VERY rare that a mother is not able to produce enough milk. Especially if you have 2 breasts and 1 baby. The myth of not being able to produce is due to a lack of good information and good support. More and more hospitals are not allowing babies in the NICU to have anything other than human milk from their mother or from a milk bank.

    • mamajb

      There are really good and scientific reasons that every health organization in the world recommends EBF for the first 6 months of life. It’s not bunk.

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  • Thank you! I’ve been looking all over for this! As someone who was planning on breastfeeding and then ended up formula feeding, personally I spent a LOT of money on breastfeeding shirts and bras. Always bought them on sale, but that adds up very quickly. Also, since I work, I would have needed bottles for daycare anyways. Yes, my pump was free through insurance, but all the extra accessories were not. This article is a good reminder of all the things I did spend money on for breastfeeding!

  • mamajb

    Try for current (2016) costs. Kirkland is now up to .23 an oz. Target brand is .69 per oz (powdered – which is not sterile and has more incidence of contamination and recalls).
    There are three things a mother NEEDS to successfully breastfeed; a baby, a breast and a brain (specifically a functioning pituitary). Everything is an extra convenience. Special clothing was unheard of when I was breastfeeding as were electric breast pumps. Now insurance companies pay for breast pumps via the AHCA. More and more mothers are finding they can get more milk with hand expression and without the hassles involved with a breast pump. How many bottles for daycare?? Maybe 3. And extra food costs? An exclusively breastfeeding mother will typically need either the same amount of calories she was getting at the end of pregnancy, or up to 200 additional calories per day. That’s the equivalent of adding 1-2 healthy snacks per day. I could write more, but you get the idea.