There are numerous and distinct advantages to breastfeeding, especially when it comes to a family's bottom line. While breastfeeding can offer tremendous savings compared to buying formula, breastfeeding isn't exactly "free." As any breastfeeding mom can tell you, those hours with a baby at the boob add up. But what would a dollar amount look like for breastfeeding, anyway? Here's a look at the math to see just how much a breastfeeding mom's salary would be. While "Breastfeeding Mom" is not an official job title you'd put in your LinkedIn profile, let's be honest: Feeding a baby from your own body is straight up work.
Breastfeeding has become the new norm for how many mothers feed their babies in the United States — but this wasn't always the case when baby formula came to prominence during World War II and reached peak popularity in the 1950s. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of moms who breastfeed in the United States is on the rise. In 2013, the CDC reported that more than 80 percent of moms breastfeed their newborns. Though breastfeeding rates drop at six months and 1 year old — to 52 and 30 percent breastfeeding, respectively.
This helps to get an idea of just how many women could consider breastfeeding a job — albeit a temporary contract gig for up to a year. But what about actual working hours?
Even though breastfeeding as a job might be temporary, it's definitely a full-time gig. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, newborns need to be breastfed about every two hours, or about eight to 12 times a day. But for how long a baby actually nurses in one sitting depends on a variety of factors, from milk supply and letdown efficiency to baby's hunger level and age, to how well they latch. Some moms can nurse a baby in as few as 10 to 15 minutes. When I was breastfeeding my son, it was a 45-minute minimum at just about every nursing session (thank you, milk supply and latch issues). Let's split the difference and say that it takes about 30 minutes to nurse a baby.
Considering a baby needs to eat every day — because obvs — breastfeeding moms can expect to put as much as six hours on the clock in time just spent feeding their child. That just over 40 hours a week if one were to exclusively breastfeed, with no time off. Now it's time to look at what this all looks like in dollars.
While the U.S. federal minimum wage is $7.25, fast food workers have been lobbying for a $15 minimum wage since 2012. Thankfully, some states have risen to that call by enacting $15-an-hour minimum wage standards. Now, I'm not saying the liquid gold that is breastmilk is in any way nutritionally similar to fast food, but, for all intents and purposes, let's just say that breastfeeding as a job is a comparable metaphor to that of working at a fast food restaurant.
That means at the federal minimum wage level, a breastfeeding mom would earn a paltry $15,080 a year for her services. If we bump that up to $15 an hour, she would make $31,200 a year. Better, but not great.
Of course, all of this is before taxes, and doesn't include the many, many additional costs associated with breastfeeding, such as nursing bras, nursing pads, lactation consultations, breast pump rentals or purchases, heating pads for inevitable clogged ducts... the list goes on. One breastfeeding mom figured out she spent more than $1,000 in additional expenses associated with breastfeeding her child for a year, in a post for finance website The Billfold. Author Kaitlin Bell Barnett estimated that, in six months of exclusively breastfeeding her daughter, she spent more than $2,000 in additional "products and services to make nursing and pumping breast milk easier and less uncomfortable," as she wrote in The Guardian.
When it's all said and done, the salary for a breastfeeding mom would range from $15,000 to $35,000 for one year if they were paid for the time they had to spend breastfeeding. While it would be amazing if nursing moms could see a paycheck every week for the time and effort they've spent feeding their child, that's never realistically going to happen. But it's worthwhile to do the math to see just how much work breastfeeding really is.