TLDR: the short answer is that in 2023, it costs approximately $2500 per year if you’re feeding your baby a basic powdered formula. For ready-to eat, it’s about $3300. If you need hypoallergenic or other specialty formulas, it could be $5000+.
To calculate the cost of a particular brand of formula:
For ready to feed: Take the cost of the container, divide it by the number of ounces in the container. That’s how much it will cost for each ounce baby drinks. Now multiply that times 10,000 for the number of ounces baby will drink in a year.
For powdered: Take the number of ounces of powder in the container and multiply it by 6.5 ounces, because one ounce of powdered formula makes 6.5 ounces for the baby to drink. Now, take the cost of the container and divide it by that number of ounces of drinkable formula you can make. That’s the cost per ounce. Multiply by 10,000 ounces for a year’s worth.
All the details behind that summary:
If you want more insight into my estimates, read on. If you just want to know how to save money on formula, scroll to the bottom of this post.
I thought this answer would be trivial to look up. I did a Bing search for “how much does it cost to formula feed a baby for a year?” Here are answers from the top results in a Bing search.
- $1642 on average, based on calculator: KellyMom (from 2016)
- “Families who follow optimal breastfeeding practices can save between $1,200–$1,500 in expenditures on infant formula in the first year alone” – US Surgeon General (document from 2011)
- Parents in 2021 said $1000 – 2000 a year, citing that Surgeon General statement.
- Baby Center cost calculator: implies $183 per month [equivalent of $2196 per year). But on another page on Baby Center from 2022: ” $400 to $800 is the average monthly cost” [that’s $4800 + a year)
- One of the top Bing search results is this page from Breastfeeding Center of Ann Arbor, that says the cost of formula feeding is “Between $1,138.5 and $1,188.00” but that assumes formula is 7 to 14 cents an ounce, so I’m not sure when it’s from.
- Pricer says “Four cans are what an average baby would consume in a month, this costing around $55.” [annual equivalent: $660.)
- Romper has a 2018 article someone’s actual spending of $1942 for one year.
- And Smart Asset’s very confusing article says $821 – 2920 depending on the brand you use, then two lines below that shows calculations of $4927 – 10,493.
If we put together all these answers from the top several results of a Bing search, you learn that formula will cost somewhere between $660 – 10,400 for the first year. Not very helpful, right?
So, I decided to do the math myself. It’s harder than you’d think…
How many ounces of formula does a baby consume in a year?
The standard rule of thumb is that a baby 0 – 6 months who is eating only formula should consume 2 – 2.5 ounces per day per pound that they weigh. (So a larger 4 month old baby is eating more than the smaller 2 month old was, obviously.) As you add in solid foods, formula is still their biggest source of nutrition, but they’re also getting some calories from solids, so the daily formula consumption actually goes down a little from 6 – 12 months.
I could have looked up how much an average baby weighs at each month, and how much that meant they would eat each day that month, but that would be a lot of work, I used Kelly Bonyata’s estimates of how much formula babies need per day – they seemed reasonable. So, first month at 21 ounces a day, second month at 26.5, next four months averaging 32 ounces a day, then 3 months at 28 ounces, then 3 months at 25 ounces a day. That totals up to 10,035 ounces per year. (We’ll ignore for now that you probably spilled some and certainly had to dump some when your baby didn’t finish a bottle.)
How much does formula cost per ounce?
So, you can’t just look at the per ounce cost that shows on the store shelf or online comparisons. Powder will always look like it’s more expensive per ounce then ready-to-drink, but it’s not really!
Forbes magazine made this mistake in their article on the best formulas. They say Similac Pro-Total Comfort Infant Formula “is the most cost-effective formula on our list.” It lists it as 30 cents per ounce. To feed a baby for one day, you’d need 25 ounces of that ready-to-feed product, so that’s about $7.50 for one day. Just below that, Forbes lists Gerber Good Start Gentle Pro, which it lists as $1.48 per ounce, which to Forbes’ apparently uneducated eye looks more expensive than the Similac. But that one ounce of powder makes 6.5 ounces of liquid formula for baby to drink once you add water. So for one day, you’d need 3.8 ounces of powdered formula, which would cost $5.69 for a day’s worth of formula. Much more cost effective.
How many ounces of powdered formula make one ounce of formula for baby to drink?
If you’re curious about the math that got me to 1 ounce of powder = 6.5 ounces of mixed formula, here it is: If you’re buying powdered formula, using this container as our example, there’s 20 ounces of powder (that’s a weight measurement) which is equal to 566 grams. It says that for two ounces of water (a volume measurement), you add 8.7 grams of powder. (note: this actually makes slightly more than two ounces of formula for baby to drink… that’s a math error we’ll ignore to make up for that spilled and wasted bits we mentioned before…) So, in a 20 ounce / 566 gram can, you have enough to make 65 2-ounce bottles, which is 130 ounces that baby can drink. So every ounce of powdered formula makes ~6.5 ounces of formula for baby to drink. Or the way Joshua Bartlett does the math, “you end up using 0.3 oz of your formula to make about 2 fluid ounces of formula.” In that linked article, he also has helpful calculations for parents about how many servings are in a can of formula / aka how long will a container of formula last.
Per ounce costs of recommended brands:
I looked at what brands are recommended by Forbes and Baby Center. (Note: I’m not saying I recommend these brands particularly – I’m just using recommendations that the average parent would find online.) I priced some of those on Amazon* for sake of getting a basic estimate.
All purpose powdered formulas:
Gerber Good Start Gentle Pro. $30.49 for 20 ounces of powder which would make 130 ounces of drinkable formula, so 23 cents per ounce of drinkable formula. The 10,000 ounces a baby would drink in a year cost $2345.
Enfamil Neuro Pro. $52.49 for 31 ounces of powder which would make 201.5 ounces, so 26 cents per ounce, or $2611 for a year.
All purpose ready-to feed: Similac Total. $62.69 for 6 32 ounce containers. Amazon thinks it’s $1.96 an ounce, but that’s wrong. Because the price is for 6 32 ounce containers not just one, that’s 192 ounces, so it’s 32 cents per ounce, or $3,265 per year.
Hypoallergenic ready-to-feed: Similac Alimentum $12.79 for 32 ounces. 39 cents per ounce. $3996 for one year.
Hypoallergenic powder: Neocate Syneo Infant $51 for 14.1 ounces of powder, which would make 91.7 ounces of drinkable, so 55 cents an ounce, or $5561 per year.
So, that leads to my best estimate that to formula feed a baby for one year would cost $2500 – 5000.
How can you reduce the cost of infant formula:
- Choose generic store brands over the brand names that spend a lot on marketing. All formulas have to meet the same FDA standards.
- Buy powder, not ready-to-eat. Only buy hypoallergenic or other pricey formulas if your doctor says that it is necessary.
- Be a smart shopper: by shopping around to different stores, buying on sale, clipping coupons, or getting bulk or subscription discounts you can reduce these costs.
- if you are a low income parent, you may qualify for WIC (Women, Infants and Children program) or SNAP (often called food stamps) to help with the cost of formula feeding. Check to see if you’re eligible for WIC. Check if you’re eligible for SNAP. Local food banks or other programs may also have resources for you if you can’t afford formula.
- If you are planning ahead and have not yet had your baby: perhaps consider breastfeeding? Breastfeeding is basically free – the lactating parent may just need to add a few extra calories to her diet to support milk production plus vitamin D supplements for baby. If you’re wondering whether breastfeeding is right for you, take a class or read about it (we cover it well in a book I co-author) just to see whether you think it’s a possibility for you.
- If you already had your baby but you aren’t currently breastfeeding, it can be possible to induce lactation – check out these articles: Inducing lactation – even if you never breastfed, or relactation if you have breastfed in the past, even for a short time.)
One key: never try to save costs by diluting formula with extra water! Your baby will not get the nutrients they need and their growth and development may suffer. Also, do not use homemade formula recipes you find online – most are nutritionally inadequate and some are actively harmful.
- Why is infant formula so expensive? is a good summary.
- What if we continue to have formula shortages and it’s hard to find formula? Recommendations from HHS. And more info.
- Overview of formula feeding info from American Academy of Pediatrics
*Note: the links to the formula brands above are Amazon affiliate links. If you click on those and then purchase anything on Amazon, I do receive a small referral bonus which supports this blog.