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Illustration by Alyssa Kiefer

The most recent estimate of how much it costs to raise a child from birth through age 17 is a whopping $233,610, according to the United States Department of Agriculture — and that’s not including higher education.

But what about your baby’s first year? Experts say this number may be between $20,000 to $50,000 depending on where you live, what insurance you have, and what your child care needs are.

In general, the most expensive part may be the costs you incur before your baby is born (prenatal care) and then the actual delivery. Here’s a rundown of what costs you can expect, where you can save, and some tips for how you can budget ahead of time.

Your baby needs between 6 and 12 diapers each day, possibly more in the early weeks. The American Academy of Pediatrics shares that families may spend close to $936 on disposable diapers in the first year (about $18 per week).

This cost can be a strain on families and even lead to practices like less frequent changing, which can cause diaper rashes and other health issues.

Cloth diapers are an option that can be reused again and again after washing. There are a range of types, from pre-folds and covers to all-in-one diapers. They each have their own costs, benefits, and drawbacks.

Of course, you’ll also need to factor in convenience. And if you plan to send your child to day care, you’ll need to see if the day care requires disposable diapers or will accommodate cloth.

For the sake of comparison, Carrie at The Simple Dollar shares a detailed analysis of her cloth diapering experience in the first 2 years of her child’s life. Her costs for the first year totaled $930.08 ($705.53 in actual cloth diapers, $51.00 in detergents, and $173.55 in utilities and water).

While this amount is close to the disposable diaper cost for 1 year, the real savings was realized in the second year of diapering, which only cost detergent and utilities. So, the total for 2 years of diapering was $1,154.63.

How to save money on diapers

If you’re having a baby shower, consider asking your guests to bring diapers instead of cute clothing or extra toys. It’s wise to request a few different diaper types, so you can see which works best for your baby — and which are easiest for you, too.

And if you have the extra storage space, you can also request a range of sizes, so you’re covered as your baby grows.

Planning to do cloth? Check out local secondhand baby stores or parent groups to see if they sell gently used cloth diapers. While the concept of used diapers may sound a little iffy, they work great and you can save a lot of money this way.

For more on diaper planning, check out our diaper guide.

Your baby will spend a lot of time eating in their first year. How you supply the food is up to you, and each method comes with its own price tag, supplies, and considerations.

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding or chestfeeding is usually the lowest cost feeding option for your baby. The milk is free, but you’ll need to consider the cost of:

  • breast pumps
  • special feeding bras
  • storage bags
  • other supplies

If you’re planning to breastfeed, it’s a good idea to have a breast pump.

If you have health insurance, check with your provider before buying one to see whether your plan covers a breast pump. Many do, and it just takes a little paperwork to save big on this essential item.

If you decide to purchase a pump on your own, hand pumps are the least expensive and may cost between $30-$50, depending on the brand. A quality double electric pump runs quite a bit more, between $120 and $350. Hands-free versions may be even more expensive.

In addition to a pump, you may want or need other supplies. Many are optional, but the costs can add up.

Supplies include:

  • Nursing bras, shirts, and other clothing: $12 to $20 and up
  • Nursing cover: $10 to $40
  • Nursing pillow: $10 to $50
  • Nursing stool: $5 to $35
  • Breast milk storage bags: $10 to $15
  • Lactation consultant: $0 to $300 or more depending on type of visit, where you live, and your insurance coverage

Formula

Baby formula comes in a wide range of brands and types, and the cost can vary significantly depending on the formula you choose. Powdered formula is usually the least expensive option, and it may cost between $70 and $150 per month.

Your monthly expenses may be higher if you decide to use liquid or organic formula, or a more expensive brand. Keep in mind that your monthly expenses usually go up as your baby grows and eats more per feeding session.

On average, according to experts, babies consume the following formula amounts daily:

  • 0–1 month: 24 ounces
  • 2–3 months: 32 ounces
  • 4–6 months: 28–32 ounces
  • 7–9 months: 30–32 ounces
  • 10–12 months: 24–30 ounces (as baby consumes more solids, they take less formula)

Often you can request samples or coupons from formula manufactures, like Similac. They may also offer subscription discounts if you order directly from the manufacturer’s website.

Generic formulas are another option if you’re looking for quality with a lower price tag. All generic formulas sold in the United States must meet the same Food and Drug Administration (FDA) safety and quality standards as their name brand counterparts.

Need more help? Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is a government program that provides formula and other food items to families in need.

You’ll likely need to use certain types of formulas that are approved by the program unless your child requires a different formula for a medical reason. Covered formula brands do vary by state.

It’s important to mix formula properly according to the directions. Adding less powder to the bottle to conserve the formula and decrease costs is extremely harmful to baby.

Solids

When your baby will start eating solid foods is up to you and your doctor. In general, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends starting solids sometime around your child turns 6 months old.

To start, many parents choose to offer purees or very softened table foods, like steamed carrots, avocado, banana, and applesauce. Initially, your baby will only be tasting these foods, so it likely won’t cost much.

As your baby starts to eat more variety of foods, you can choose to offer store-bought baby foods or make your own at home.

If you buy all store-bought purees, it may total around $50 per month or more.

Otherwise, you can steam and mash foods at home with tools you already have on hand. A dedicated baby food maker, on the other hand, may cost between $50 and $125.

Baby clothes keep your little one comfortable and clean. That said, it’s easy to go overboard and buy well beyond your baby’s basic needs. How much and what type of clothing your baby needs has to do with things like the climate where you live and your everyday life.

Experts estimate that what you spend on clothing in the first year may average out to about $50 each month ($600 for the year). You may very well spend far more or less than this average, though.

For example, if you’re home most of the time, you may choose to dress your baby in simple onesies and sleepers. If you’re out and about, you may need more outfits and outdoor clothing.

You can also find gently used clothing at thrift and consignment stores, yard sales, online parent groups, and other sale sites. And if you ask around, you may very well be able to find a bunch of hand-me-downs from willing parents looking to free up closet space.

Prefer new clothes? Shop sales. Once you find a store you like that matches your budget, you can keep an eye on their yearly sale rhythm to maximize your dollars.

Cribs and strollers and car seats, oh, my! There’s a whole world of gear for your baby, and it’s enough to make your head spin. Wading through what you absolutely need and what might just be nice can be difficult, especially when it comes to baby.

It’s a good idea to sit down and make a list of your must-haves.

These items may include:

  • cribs
  • crib mattresses
  • car seats
  • high chairs
  • strollers
  • baby carriers
  • bassinets
  • swings or rockers
  • baby-proofing supplies
  • bottles

What makes your must-have list will be very individual to you and your family’s lifestyle and needs. Resist the temptation to buy baby gear based on novelty.

And if you’re on the fence about something, see if you can wait until your baby actually needs it to purchase. As time goes on, you may see that you don’t absolutely need a fancy baby rocker, for example.

Once you have your list of must-haves, it’s a good idea to add up the prices so you can start to budget. Keep in mind that baby gear comes in a wide range of prices — and being more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean an item is safer or better.

If you’re having a baby shower, you may be able to set up an option for guests to contribute a portion of the cost for some of the more expensive items. You can also keep an eye out for sales to help reduce costs for some of the gear you may not need right away.

Another great way to save is to borrow or buy gently used baby gear from your friends or family, or even at consignment stores, yard sales, or swap meets. When using second-hand items, be sure to inspect them carefully for any damage.

Also check online or call the manufacturer to ensure there are no recalls or safety issues.

Costs for child care vary wildly, depending on your:

  • needs
  • preferences
  • geographical location

You may be a stay-at-home parent or have a flexible job and be able to work from home with little to no child care. You may have family willing to watch your baby for free. Or you may work full time and need full-time care in a major metropolitan area.

Popular financial site NerdWallet ran an analysis on child care costs for families with incomes around $40,000 and $200,000. It found the approximate range to be between $8,000 and $27,000 per year. Of course, with all the variables, it’s important to investigate the costs of different types of care in your area.

Nanny

Nannies are child care providers who either live in or come to your home and watch your child. Nanny search site NannyLane shares that the national average wage is $19.14 per hour for a full-time, live-out nanny and $16.75 per hour for a full-time, live-in nanny (plus a place to stay, of course). For part-time or short-term nannies, these prices are around $17.80 per hour.

So, if you’re looking for 40 hours of care from a live-out nanny, that’s about $765.60 each week for one child. Where you live makes a big difference in this price, however.

Other factors that impact pricing are:

  • the number of children you have
  • the years of experience your nanny has
  • any overtime you might need
  • additional work duties you assign, like light housework or cooking

You may also see nanny shares, which is a lower cost situation where you share a nanny with another family or families.

Whatever type of nanny you choose, it’s important that they (and all other caregivers) have CPR training, which is an additional cost. You may also want to consider paying for a background check to help ensure your little one’s safety.

Day care

Many babies and children go to day care centers. These are places where multiple families take their children to be watched in a group setting with a number of child care providers. For this reason, day care centers tend to be less expensive than nannies.

A Care.com survey revealed that in 2019 the average cost of day care center care was $728 per month or about $9,000 per year. The average cost can be a lot higher if you live in a major metropolitan area, however.

There are other group child care settings, like in-home day cares, which may be even more affordable. You should always check to see if in-home day cares are licensed before signing your child up for a spot.

Babysitters

To go out for the occasional date night, you’ll want to hire a babysitter. Babysitter search site Sittercity shares that the average hourly rate for babysitters in 2021 is $16 per hour. This price will vary depending on:

  • the age of your child
  • the number of children you have
  • your location
  • your babysitter’s years of experience

Your baby needs basic medical care to ensure they’re developing on target and are protected from certain illnesses and diseases (immunizations). This means you’ll take them in for wellness visits with a pediatrician or family doctor.

Typical visits in the first year occur at:

  • 3–5 days old
  • 1 month
  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 9 months
  • 12 months

The cost for this care will depend on your health insurance. Many providers cover 100 percent of baby well visits or only charge a single copay for all. Medicaid also covers wellness visits.

It’s important to note that if you ask your doctor about other health issues during a well visit, you may receive a bill. That’s because the insurance covers the basic well visit, but if it’s coded with any other issues, you’ll be charged according to your plan’s sick visit rate.

What if your baby has a chronic condition?

If your child has a health condition and requires more doctor visits, medications, or surgeries, you’ll be charged for these visits at your deductible or by copay amount.

There’s also help available if you don’t have the funds to cover your baby’s healthcare costs. You might consider asking your doctor or hospital for resources or check out the following organizations:

Delivery costs vary depending on where you live.

For example, giving birth in a hospital without insurance costs approximately $8,300 in Arkansas but this amount may be closer to $20,000 in New York state, according to an article in The American Journal of Managed Care. The average cost for a person with employer-sponsored healthcare is $13,811.

Of that amount, you might pay between $1,000 to $2,500 out of pocket if you have insurance. Higher cost delivery is associated with cesarean delivery. Of course, there are also other factors, like provider type (doctor versus midwife) and location (hospital, birthing center, home setting).

Alternatives include:

Home birth

A home birth on its own is virtually free. However, it’s a good idea to hire a midwife.

It may cost anywhere between $1,500 to $5,000, and this cost is usually not covered by any type of health insurance.

Keep in mind that even if you plan a home birth, there’s always a chance that emergencies may require you to go to a hospital, and pay all the associated costs.

Birthing center

If you’d like an alternative to a hospital birth that isn’t in your living room, a birthing center may fit the bill. Here, you’ll be encouraged to birth without intervention and may even go home within hours of delivery.

The cost is generally somewhere between the cost of a home birth and hospital birth. If you have insurance, it may be covered.

What about other ways of making a family?

Adoption, in vitro fertilization (IVF), and surrogacy are other options for making a family, but they involve some pretty hefty costs. A single cycle of IVF can cost anywhere between $4,900 and $30,000 depending on:

  • whether you use your own eggs or sperm or donor
  • what state you live in
  • certain testing you opt to add

The national average is around $20,000, but keep in mind it may take more than one cycle to achieve pregnancy.

Private adoption fees may run somewhere between $20,000 and $45,000, according to the Child Welfare International Gateway, and don’t include additional costs like travel. Public adoption (through the foster care system) is low cost, and you may even be eligible for certain one-time and recurring government subsidies to help.

Surrogacy costs include the cost of IVF plus medical care and pregnancy-related expenses for the gestational carrier. This is the person who agrees to carry and deliver your baby.

Depending on the arrangement and whether or not you use an agency, you may expect to pay anywhere from $90,000 to $130,000 or more.

The most expensive aspects of the first year include prenatal care, delivery costs, and child care. So, start with these areas to work up rough estimates of your total anticipated costs.

If you have health insurance, call your insurance company to ask for any out-of-pocket amounts you should plan for. Meet with nannies or day cares to find out their monthly costs and any other fees.

Think of these types of costs as your fixed expenses, the ones that don’t have wiggle room. Then, you figure out the rest. Things like gear, toys, clothes, and food can be found at a number of price points to meet your budget needs.

Other tips:

  • Ask your friends or family if they have gently used baby clothing, gear, toys, or other essentials you can borrow or purchase for low cost. You may soon find yourself swimming in hand-me-downs with very little extra needed to buy on your own.
  • Resist buying lots of flashy toys or other extraneous items. Babies grow quickly and may outgrow certain items before you use it much, if at all. If you have your eyes on something particularly special, consider adding it to your registry for a baby shower or saving up for it over the course of your pregnancy.
  • Identify your wants versus needs. Again, your needs will be different than somebody else’s. But you’ll definitely need somewhere for your baby to sleep, something and somewhere for your baby to eat, basic clothing, and a car seat. Beyond these items, it’s up to you.
  • Consider asking for cash if someone offers to send you a gift for the baby. You don’t always know what items you’ll need ahead of time. Instead of asking for random items on your registry, consider asking for gift cards or even cash to cover your essentials as you discover them down the line.
  • Get organized about your budget by creating an Excel spreadsheet with all your anticipated expenses so you can see them in black and white.
  • Apply for help. There are various programs to help with nutrition and other needs of low-income families and babies. WIC is a nutritional program that provides supplemental foods and nutrition information to qualified families with children up to age 5.
  • What about diapers? WIC and other programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), do not cover diapers. The National Diaper Bank Network can help and has over 200 diaper banks across the United States.

In the end, what having a baby costs your best friend or sister may be entirely different from how much it costs you and your family.

Have a frank discussion with your partner about your needs, wants, and any concerns you may have about paying for those wants and needs.

All that money talk can feel stressful, but you’ll be thankful you covered your bases and hopefully won’t encounter too many big surprises after your little one is born.