Feeding a newborn can cost very little if you nurse, but the tab quickly rises if you ever use formula and it spirals as the child gets older and you start buying baby food.
Here's how parents can minimize the cost of feeding a baby — and get to work on her college fund instead.
- THE EARLY MONTHS: Even breast-feeding costs money, especially when the mother needs to pump and store milk. Electric breast pumps run $45 to $300 or more; manual pumps cost $35 to $45. Other accessories — special bras, nursing pads, a nursing pillow and storage containers — can cost more than $200 in all. Spread over a year, that top cost of $500 for a pump and accessories amounts to less than $10 a week.
- HERE'S HOW TO SAVE: If you choose to nurse, you can save by buying specialized equipment second hand through parents groups or by borrowing it from friends.
If you choose formula, powder is the best deal, even if made with filtered water as some experts recommend.
A 24-ounce can of name-brand powder makes about 170 ounces of liquid and costs about $25. That's about $20 a week to start, with the cost rising as the baby grows and eats more. The same volume of liquid formula typically costs $40-plus, or almost $30 a week to start.
To save further, register at formula makers' websites to score free samples and coupons.
Once you know which formula works best for you, check parent chat boards to swap coupons.
Also try store-brand powder from Babies R Us, Target Corp., Walmart Stores Inc. and other retailers, for $15 to $20 a can.
Remember that it is held to the same rigorous federal standards as its name-brand counterparts.
- LET'S TALK SOLIDS: When a child is ready for solids — starting with cereal and gradually adding fruits, vegetables, grains and meat — there is a growing variety of prepackaged baby food. Sometimes, especially when you're traveling, the convenience of jarred food can't be beat. And some of it is reasonably healthy. But it can cost $1 an ounce.
- HERE'S HOW TO SAVE: Start by buying baby food online for savings up to 75 percent.
Even less expensive — and often healthier and easier — is to make your own baby food using fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and appropriate proteins, says David Ludwig, associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital Boston.
Grind cooked food in a specialized mill (costing $10 to $38, they come in manual or electric versions and are small enough to fit in a purse or diaper bag). Or use a common food processor or immersion blender. Quite soon, you can dispense entirely with jars and prepackaged food and give your baby a mashed version of most anything the rest of the family eats.
Experts just caution that you ensure your puree is the right consistency (quite thin for the youngest eaters, thicker as babies get older, and no chunks until babies have teeth). And keep guard against foods like strawberries that babies are more likely to be allergic to.
To save further, try freezing homemade baby food in an ice-cube tray to create tiny servings you can defrost as needed.
"As long as the consistency is appropriate, it should not matter whether it comes from a jar or from frozen," says Karin Pennington, lead dietitian and research nutritionist at the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center.
Another simple way to save is to serve applesauce and other compotes packaged for older children and adults in larger servings or small jars. Just be sure to compare the nutritional value per ounce with that of commercial baby food.
As for grains, rice cereal is best to start with because it is the least allergenic, and single grains are easier to digest, says Suzanne Farrell, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. But as your baby grows you should ask your pediatrician about other grains you can serve your baby to add variety — and enable yourself to cook just one meal for the whole family.