I often hear parents complain about how much it costs to have a baby: how expensive all the things you supposedly need are, not to mention the hospital costs of labor and delivery, especially now that the U.S. has the highest cesarean rate in the world.
Fortunately, you don’t have to believe the Baby Industry hype. It is possible to save hundreds—if not thousands—of dollars, and untold environmental resources by parenting closer to nature.
Here are five tips for how to save money on baby…
1. Consider a Homebirth
If you are a low-risk pregnancy, and if you prefer to have a natural childbirth without pharmaceuticals, a homebirth is a safe, low-tech, eco-friendly and inexpensive way to have a baby.1 In fact, for low-risk women, homebirth is just as safe as hospital birth.2
The average uncomplicated vaginal birth costs 68% less in a home than in a hospital, and births initiated in the home offer a lower combined rate of intrapartum and neonatal mortality, and a lower incidence of cesarean delivery.3
Not only do you get to relax and bring your precious one into the world in the comfort of your own home, but you help conserve all of the gas, electricity, chemicals, and other expensive resources that go into a “high-tech,” hospital birth.
After 63 hours of labor (which would not have been allowed at a hospital simply because it is inconvenient), our daughter was born into her father’s arms in our cozy bedroom in March of 2008. Afterward, our midwife cleaned the house, did our laundry, and left us in bliss in our bed. I can’t imagine having had a better birth.
All of my prenatal care (including lab tests and hour-long check-ups), post-natal care, and the birth itself cost a mere $2,500, which is less than most people’s out-of-pocket deductible expense and co-pay for a hospital birth. Some insurance companies will even reimburse for birth at home or at a birthing center.
Compare that to the national average cost of a hospital birth with no complications: $10,000! And if there are complications (which happen more often when hospitals use pitocin to speed labor), you could be looking at upwards of $30,000 for giving birth.
Savings: $7,500 and up
2. Breast Really is Best
Controversy notwithstanding, the science is definitive: breastfeeding is far and away better than formula feeding. While not every new mother is physically capable of breastfeeding, the vast majority of American mothers can, especially with the support of a lactation counselor.
Breastfeeding is considered so essential to the health of a mother and her baby that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for at least a year, and the World Health Association recommends at least 2 years. For non-Western cultures, the average length of breastfeeding is 4 years!
Formula feeding increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) as well as diabetes, leukemia and several other diseases, costing us all a minimum of $3.6 billion dollars a year in healthcare costs.4 The AAP says each formula-fed infant costs the healthcare system between $331 and $475 more than a breastfed baby in its first year of life. The cost of treating respiratory viruses resulting from not breastfeeding is $225 million a year.5
For the national Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), supporting a breastfeeding mother costs about 45 percent less than a formula-feeding mother. Every year, $578 million in taxpayer funds buys formula for babies who could be breastfeeding.6, 7
Formula is not only substandard to breastmilk nutritionally, but its manufacture is also extremely resource intensive and toxic to the environment—even the organic brands. An entire industrial complex goes into making commercial formula. After all, formula is the epitome of processed food.
The farming required to make formula requires vast tracts of land ravaged by the monoculture of genetically-modified (GMO) corn and soybeans, heavy machinery, synthetic fertilizers made from petroleum, toxic pesticides, and more.
And if that weren’t enough, a recent study showed that 1 in 3 cans of infant formula (including organic brands) contained enough BPA in a single serving to expose an infant to BPA levels more than 200 times the government’s traditional safe level of exposure!
Lastly, formula feeding is extremely expensive for families. It costs between $700-$3000 a year to feed a baby with formula, and the organic formulas may even cost more. While some may view this as the cost of convenience, I would argue that as a society, we can and should make it much easier and more acceptable for moms to breastfeed and/or pump their milk during the first years of their babies’ lives.
And because there are families who simply cannot breastfeed, we also need to have safe, secure donor Milk Banks in every town so that nature’s perfect infant food is available to all babies. Our economy, our health and our environment depend on it.
That said, if you are able to breastfeed, choosing to do so for at least a year could save you enough money for a nice vacation after you wean.
3. Skip the Nursery
During my pregnancy, my husband and I wondered why a baby needed her own room and furniture. I mean, when you think about it, what does a baby care about whether the bumper and the lamp match the blankets? All she really wants is to feel safe and be close to her parents. And all we wanted was to know she was safe, and to have a good night’s sleep.
So, we decided that our daughter would sleep with us, and we didn’t buy a crib, changing table, dresser or any of the furniture and decorations that would go into a nursery that she would only use for a few short years, and never remember.
Co-sleeping with parents or grandparents is common practice throughout much of the world, and this saves a lot of natural resources, and a lot of money—which we put into a big, king-size family bed! Since babies and small children are evolutionarily wired to naturally fear being alone at night, having your child sleeping close to you means more restful nights for everyone.
By learning to safely co-sleep, not only did we not have to get up at night to feed the baby, but she slept soundly without needing “training.” As an added bonus, each day began with snuggles and smiles even before we got out of bed!
In fact, our daughter didn’t need her own room or furniture until she was old enough for the Big-Girl Bed, at which point we transitioned her to the furniture that will last her entire life at home.
While we chose to create a family bed, you could just as easily buy a co-sleeper or remove one of the sides of your crib and push it up against the bed. Whatever you choose, baby will be close at hand, and you will need less space in your home, as well as save lots of money and natural resources.
Savings: $1,500 and up
4. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
The Baby Industry makes a fortune on the fact that baby clothes and toys are relatively cheap and will only be worn or played with for a short time before they are outgrown. That every family feels compelled to buy such quickly obsolete products like baby clothes, furniture and toys again and again may line the pockets of CEOs, but on a massive, nationwide scale, it is completely and totally unsustainable.
Consider buying your baby toys and clothes at thrift stores, E-Bay or Craig’s List. Join sites like Schoola, Swap.com or BabyPlays.com to get great used toys. Check in your community for baby clothes swaps. Ask your friends and relatives for hand-me-downs.
Used clothing is not only eco-friendly and cheaper, but the neurotoxic, fire-retardant chemicals they put into many baby clothes (especially pajamas!) have most likely been washed out already, making them a safer option for your little one.
We were fortunate to collect enough hand-me-downs from friends and relatives (including some brand new clothes that were bought for another child but never worn) that we didn’t have to buy a single article of clothing for our daughter until after she was a year old! We were also given a used jogging stroller, which helped a lot once she was too heavy to wear everywhere.
Once you start asking around, you’ll probably find that most parents of older kids have some old baby stuff stored away they’d love to sell or give away.
Savings: $300 and up
5. Cloth Diaper or Go Diaper Free
The average baby goes through 6-8 diapers a day. Unless you practice elimination communication, your baby will use between 6,500–10,000 diapers before potty training around 30 months old. If you use disposables and disposable wipes, this costs about $75–$100 a month retail—at least $3,000 per child!
We, as a nation, also pay through the nose for disposable diapers throughout their life-cycle. In the full-cost accounting, from farm to factory to storefront, compared to cloth diapers, disposables:
- create 2.3 times more water waste,
- use 3.5 times more energy,
- use 8.3 times more non-renewable raw materials (like oil and minerals),
- use 90 times more renewable raw materials (like tree pulp and cotton),
- and use 4 to 30 times as much land for growing or mining raw materials.
For the nation, this means that over 250,000 trees are destroyed and over 3.4 billion gallons of oil are used every single year just to manufacture disposable diapers in the United States. For that amount of oil, we could have powered over 5,222,000 cars in the same time period.
In contrast, reusable cloth diapers offer a solution to all the cost, health and environmental problems with disposables. Today’s cloth diapers are as effective as any disposable, and they come in lots of styles, sizes and super-cute colors and prints! The new cloth diaper systems do not require a stinky diaper pail, and clean up easily in both regular and high-efficiency washing machines, using less water than you would need to flush the toilet each time your baby went to the bathroom.
A good cloth diapering system consisting of at least 24-36 cloth diapers will usually cost you between $200-500 dollars up front retail (even less second-hand), but you will not need to continue to buy them, and you can save them for use with future children. That’s huge savings over disposables!
And, if you thought using cloth diapers was natural, economical and environmentally friendly, imagine this prospect: not using any diapers at all!
Throughout most of human existence, parents have kept their babies clean, dry and happy without using diapers. And today, in many cultures around the world, mothers continue to practice some form of elimination communication (EC), where they learn their babies’ cues for needing to eliminate— just as they would learn their cues for hunger or sleepiness—and hold them over a potty when they need to go.
Savings: $2500 and up
Total savings: At least $14,800
That’s a ton of money saved, simply by opting out of the wasteful consumer status quo!
- “Annalisa Barbieri: I gave birth at home – and here’s why – A hospital is not a natural environment for a natural event,” The Independent, April 16, 2009.
- “Home births ‘as safe as hospital.‘” BBC News, April 15, 2009
- “The Cost-Effectiveness of Home Birth.” J Nurse Midwifery. 1999 Jan-Feb;44(1):30-5.
- Jon Weimer, “The Economic Benefits of Breastfeeding: A Review and Analysis,” Food and Rural Economics Division, Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Assistance and Nutrition Research Report 13. (March 2001): 1-4.
- Lawrence M. Gartner, Arthur I. Eidelman, “Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk,” American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement, Organizational Principles to Guide and Define the Child Health Care System and/or Improve the Health of All Children
- Thomas M. Ball, Anne L. Wright, “Health Care Costs of Formula-feeding in the First Year of Life,”Pediatrics 103, (4 April 1999): 870-876.
- “Over 101 Reasons to Breastfeed,” Leslie Burby, 2007. An outstandingly well-researched and footnoted article.
This article was excerpted from my book Sustainability Starts at Home – How to Save Money While Saving the Planet. For more money-saving, planet-friendly tips, check out the book by clicking below.
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50 Ways to Love Your Mother contains 50 simple, “entry-level” ways to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Not only will these baby steps go easy on the planet, but they will go easy on your wallet, too.