It takes a lot to be a parent. A lot of money. A lot of energy. A lot of patience. And — let’s be honest — a lot of money. Haven Life wants to lend a hand. No, we’re not available to babysit, but we’ve spoken to some experts (plus a few moms and dads) to get their advice on starting a family, raising a family, and yes, paying for a family. These are their stories, and this is our “Growing Family” series.
A newborn is pure joy. For some new parents, though, that joy can be overshadowed by exhaustion and frustration. Breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally and easily to all moms and babies. Dad’s stress level rises, too, especially if he is standing by, feeling unable to help. This one essential event – feeding – can be the source of serious anguish and trauma for all if it doesn’t go as planned.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, but we didn’t have the benefit of nearby family members who could offer experience and assistance. My mom came to help for a month, but couldn’t solve our feeding problems. She never breastfed. Back when her kids were born in the 1960s, her big-city doctors had told her that formula was better and breastfeeding was for country folk. Since neither my husband nor I had much experience with infants, every day was a completely new trip to baby school.
I didn’t know until we were in crisis mode that breastfeeding support is a thing. That thing can be had for anywhere from $0 to hundreds of dollars or more.
Why the baby won’t eat
Common factors that can interfere with successful nursing soon after delivery include premature birth, birth fatigue, delivery medication given to mom, medical conditions like jaundice, and general newborn crankiness (especially after being poked for blood tests). Later, you might be dealing with tongue-tie, poor latching, gastric reflux, nipple inversion, nursing after weaning, or just plain old fussiness, to name just a few.
My own daughter forgot how to suck.
She lost too much weight after birth and her doctor instructed us to supplement her breast milk with formula for a month. So, while she nursed, we added formula to her mouth via a syringe and a tiny tube. She put the weight back on, but when we stopped supplementing we discovered that she had grown accustomed to having the milk fall into her mouth with very little effort.
My husband and I reached our wit’s end very quickly. Our parenting plans included breastfeeding. He wasn’t ready to throw in the towel (even though he was just as exhausted) but I saw with perfect clarity that for some people, for whatever reason, breastfeeding just doesn’t work out, and those moms who grab a bottle will not get any judgment from me.
Bleary, exhausted, frustrated and miserable, I declared that I would give my car, possibly even my house, to anyone who could get our hungry baby to Stop. Crying. And. Eat.
I just didn’t know who to call to make such an offer. Lord knows I didn’t have time to run an ad.
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Breastfeeding may be “natural,” but needing help is normal
New moms still in the hospital or birthing center have access to the front line of breastfeeding troops. Since I had delivered my child by C-section, I was in the hospital until my daughter’s fifth day in the world. During that time, I got help from more than one nurse who was also a lactation specialist. This is someone, often a medical professional, who has received 16-20 hours of lactation education to supplement their other training.
I also got several hours of help from a lactation consultant right before I was discharged. This magical baby whisperer got us from zero to full tummy in one long session.
When I checked out, the hospital gave me a nurse triage phone number that we were to call with any questions or problems. I’m pretty sure they assumed we were those new parents who would show up at the doctor’s office for every mosquito bite and sneeze (it happens – a close friend of mine drove straight to the ER when her daughter ate a ladybug). We were encouraged to call any time.
Fast forward one month, and we were tearing up the junk drawer to find that number. The nurse who answered gave us enough help to get through about the next eight hours, which was the amount of time before a one-on-one solution presented itself.
How much is a lactation consultant?
A lactation consultant is someone who has earned the title of International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). This person may have completed 80 or more hours of lactation coursework and 1,000 or more hours of practical experience. I knew from my hospital experience that if I found a lactation consultant who could come to our home, she’d make my world right again.
Lactation consultants typically charge between $150 and $350 per hour, depending on location. Some health insurance plans cover this fee, so it’s a great idea to look into whether you have this coverage (and how to use it) well before you need it.
“I had more difficulty getting started than I expected,” says Jessica S., Washington, DC mom of one, “so we needed help from an IBCLC. The four or five sessions I had with her ($100-$200 each), were thankfully reimbursed by our insurance.”
Unfortunately, I was not able to find an available lactation consultant the moment I needed one. Most will stay as long as they need to with each client, to get mom and baby through at least one successful feeding (and they often cap the price they charge so that you don’t really have to hand over the title to your car if things take a while). Because each client needs full attention for as long as necessary, it can be difficult or impossible to book multiple struggling moms on the same day.
If you are fortunate to have good timing or a bigger supply of professionals where you live, make the decision to hire or not hire knowing that if you decline, you might not get a second chance if you change your mind an hour or day later.
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How much is a lactation educator?
A lactation educator (or counselor) is someone who has received extensive training, perhaps 45 hours, in lactation. Lactation educators might charge between $75 and $150 per hour for a home visit.
I found free lactation educator help in the maternity shop at a local hospital. All of the sales clerks were certified and offered free one-on-one support in a special nook in the store.
Unfortunately (again), it was really hard to get a turn with these gurus. Many new moms visited this shop for help and sometimes the educators just couldn’t assist all the needy moms before closing time.
How much are breastfeeding support groups?
I felt a flicker of hope when I found out that there is such a thing as a breastfeeding support group. I even dared to let a little of that pure baby joy back in when I found out that not only was my nearest group available three times a week, it was free. I didn’t have to quitclaim our house after all.
The group was wonderful and weird. A whole bunch of moms showed up, weighed in their babies, and then sat around breastfeeding while, one at a time, we discussed our various challenges with Diane, the group’s facilitator, a certified lactation consultant who worked with each of us individually (and often stayed very late to make sure we all got our turn). After the babies ate they were weighed again so we could determine whether they were taking in a sufficient quantity of milk at each feeding.
Is it worth it to hire a lactation consultant?
If I had the chance to hire a lactation consultant to come to our home, I absolutely would have done so. It’s been more than eight years and I still remember the feeling of desperation vividly.
At the same time, I’m so grateful that I found my group. Besides the obvious advantage of being light on the budget, it got me out of the house. Also, the breastfeeding group was the only option that was always available (at scheduled times, of course) and never sold out. The group was fun and interesting. I got to hear about all the other moms’ challenges and solutions, which prepared me for some issues I would later face myself.
To find a group near you, start with the hospital where your baby was born. If there is no group, visit La Leche League online to find one and for feeding tips. KellyMom is another great resource for ideas, assuming you’ve had enough rest to focus on reading websites.
What I wish I had known – and what I wouldn’t change
I emerged victorious with valuable information. The best piece is that when it comes to technique (our issue), an infant can be retrained in 12-24 hours. I’ll say that again. You can teach your baby something new in a day. It may feel like a heartbreaking forever while your little angel is wailing, but it’s just a day. If there is no underlying issue, you’ll get through it pretty quickly.
Looking back, I only wish I had known the right questions to ask before my child was born. Our feeding challenges would have been so much easier to overcome if I had thought to explore some of the obstacles other parents face. The issues I had to deal with are really quite common.
I also now have a much firmer grasp on the true potential cost of breastfeeding.
“I certainly never expected that maintaining my goal level of nursing would involve hundreds of dollars of expenses,” says Jessica. Like me, she also spent money on pumps, milk storage bags, bottles, nursing pads and creams and nursing pillows.
Breastfeeding was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to the new costs we faced as parents. Once we got through that challenge, we geared up to look at education costs and a long-term financial plan for our baby, including planning for the possibility that one or both of us might not always be around to care for her.
Thankfully, breastfeeding help didn’t turn out to be expensive for us. With so much support for breastfeeding across the country, if you need help, there’s a very good chance you can get it for free, too.
That said, if you want someone to come to your home and give you undivided attention, I totally get it. If you can afford it, hire away. As the parent of an infant, you definitely deserve it. But consider finding a group. You might make some new friends and learn valuable information through others’ experiences.
I’m glad we made the effort to explore every resource and get connected. Because the time for potty training came in the blink of an eye…
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Kimberly Rotter is an editor at Haven Life and a consumer credit and personal finance expert. She provides consumers with understandable, actionable information that can help them improve their financial and credit health.