Breastfeeding Is Not Free — Unless You Place No Value On A Mother's Time Or Sanity

Our culture just frames it that way, as it does so many other “household/child-rearing” tasks.

Last updated on May 27, 2022

mom with baby Alena Ozerova

Anyone who has known me for as long as I’ve had kids knows that I am a huge breastfeeding advocate and think support for breastfeeding should be woven into our culture at every level — professionally, socially, etc.

But this current formula shortage, which is affecting real people and real babies, some of whom I know personally, is *not the time* to pull out the “breastfeeding is free” nonsense. Primarily because it does NOTHING to feed babies who are already here and already need feeding, but also because it perpetuates a lie. 


RELATED: Baby Dies After Starving From Exclusive Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding isn’t free. Our culture just frames it that way, as it does so many other “household/child-rearing” tasks. Breastfeeding costs time — one specific person’s time. The person who typically has the least amount of time to spare. “Cost” is never, ever just a dollar amount someone hands to a clerk that then profits a company.

That’s just a point of sale price. “Cost” is what someone has to give up in order to do something.

It’s having to overhaul work plans because a breastfed infant struggles to take a bottle of pumped milk. (Been there!) It’s investing in a quality breast pump to ease the process. It’s spending potentially wasting  hundreds of dollars of time and money to find a bottle and nipple a baby is willing to accept.


It might be hours on the phone or in-person with a lactation consultant trying to make nursing work.

It might be thrush or clogged ducts and prescriptions to treat it.

It might be missing out on a work trip because of concerns about pumping and having enough to feed a baby.

It might be rearranging an important meeting because mom needs to pump at that time because her milk supply is precarious.

RELATED: 15 Ways Breastfeeding Completely Messes With Your Sanity

Breastfeeding has a COST. Make no mistake.

Did I find that cost worth it? I did. And I was fortunate that my household and I could bear that cost. But so many, many others cannot — in large part because we still do not live in a culture that validates breastfeeding and does whatever is necessary to accommodate it.


Those pumping rooms for moms are nice — how about also not subtly or overtly penalizing women at work for using them? How about giving women guaranteed paid leave when they have a baby so that they can focus all of their attention on their new child without fear of derailing their career?

And I don’t mean just laws to protect them. I’m talking about something much more difficult to achieve: a culture that has buy-in and *recognizes the cost while also viewing it as worth the cost.*

RELATED: My Weird Aftermath Of Breastfeeding

In the same way that having babies made me more firmly in favor of reproductive rights, breastfeeding for 6+ years made me more firmly in favor of creating a culture where we recognize ALL of the costs women pay and value those costs while trying to mitigate them.


So no - don’t respond to a formula shortage with “breastfeeding is free.” It is not free. It is no freer than the cleaning, cooking, driving, etc. that men and women alike do every day. Think about it: if one had a wet nurse, would that service be free? Of course not. 

So why is it “free” if a woman does it herself with her own child? WOMEN’S WORK IS NEVER FREE. And women who fail to recognize that do a disservice to themselves and their daughters and everyone of any gender.

Babies need to be fed, period.


As long as that’s not happening with, say, some wacky goat milk homemade recipe you found online, I don’t care how you do it! Just feed them. And if you want to create a culture where breastfeeding is fully normalized everywhere from a diner to a family dinner to a boardroom, don’t proclaim it’s “free.”

Recognize the cost and recognize that it's a cost worth paying.

RELATED: Woman Explains Why She Breastfed Her Husband — And Why He Liked It

Erin Bates is a public health worker and contributor to Yourtango.