How Complications Made My Childbirth Nearly 7 Times More Expensive Than Average

We’ve all heard that having a baby is expensive. For many of us, money is one of the biggest factors in deciding when (and even whether) to have a baby. Before having a baby, you want to understand what costs to expect both before and after the birth. Figuring out how to afford baby gear, birthing classes, hospital bills, food, clothing, and childcare can be a challenge.

A quick Google search will tell you the average cost of birthing a baby in a hospital is almost $11,000, and a birth with complications can bring you up to $30,000. But there’s more to having a baby than birthing a baby. While estimates are a great place to start, they’re just data, not real life. 

I’d like to share what my actual hospital bills looked like, before insurance, along with other expenses from my baby’s first year. 

For context, I had my baby in a hospital in the U.S.

Cost of prenatal care, birthing my baby, and postpartum care during my hospital stay: $5,600.

My obstetrician’s office billed with what they called a “global fee,” meaning this was all bundled together. 

After insurance: $0

Epidural: $1,420.65

They billed my epidural separate from my birthing costs. (I would have paid out of pocket for that darling, TBH.)

After insurance: $181.50

My hospital stay, room and board (three nights): $23,004.10

This included pain medication and nursing care to make sure my body was healing. I stayed one day longer than planned because my blood pressure was high. Meals during my stay (three per day for me and a guest) counted within my room and board. 

After insurance: $3,264.96

Baby’s hospital stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), room and board (six days): $37,749.80

Yep. We didn’t plan for this. The NICU saves lives. It also costs a small fortune. We were there because I had a fever during the birth, so my baby had a mandatory 12-hour stay. Then we needed to stay longer to have grape-shaped bumps on my baby’s chin tested for fear it was the Herpes Virus (it turned out to be a harmless birthmark). That was another 48 hours waiting for tests. Then we needed to prove baby understood how to eat and was gaining weight. This is a rule in the NICU that doesn’t apply to most hospital births. Our six days in the NICU included round-the-clock nursing care, a feeding tube for a couple of days, and monitoring of oxygen levels and blood pressure. 

After insurance: $3,675.62

Testing and care through the local university hospital: $3,682.11

This was for Herpes Virus testing and daily visits from neonatologists through the local university hospital. Thankfully, this was in-network. They tested the baby’s skin, blood, and did a spinal tap. 

After insurance: $1,324.38

How did insurance impact my payment? 

I had a $2,500 deductible for me and my baby. After I paid the deductible, my insurance covered 80% of everything else (this is the coinsurance). While I was in the hospital, I had no idea how much our stay would cost. I did know my total payment wouldn’t be above my insurance’s out-of-pocket maximum of $10,000, assuming all fees were accumulated within the same calendar year (although having a NICU baby toward the end of December turned out to be a real nail-biter.)

I’m still not sure how insurance worked out all the math. While the total hospital fees were over $70,000, I ended up being billed for $8,446.46 out-of-pocket.

Beyond the hospital bills: How much did the first year cost?

$8,446.46 in hospital bills after insurance weren’t the whole picture, so here are the rest of my spending details from my baby’s first year:

Daycare: $12,195

We found a high-quality, all-day daycare for $1,355 per month. Believe it or not, this is a good deal. Daycare is expensive and started when my baby was three months old, so this is the daycare total for the first year.

Healthcare premiums: $6,736

Before the baby, my husband and I spent $4,784 per year on healthcare premiums. After baby, that number rose to $11,520 (that’s over $900 per month). The difference was $6,736 to cover our addition over the course of one year.

Baby gear and miscellaneous preparations: $3,161

This included everything from a bouncer and a swing, to a crib, birthing class, infant car seat, diaper stockpile, clothes, re-carpeting our stairs (so they were clean for the baby), and a new couch from IKEA (same reasoning). Yes, I did track these in a spreadsheet. Many of these preparations were optional.

Time off work: $2,500 (approximate)

I did take time off of work. My time off was protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). I also had some disability pay and several weeks of paid time off (PTO) to use. Still, I had some weeks with no paycheck. 

Baby formula: $1,045

We never quite got the hang of breastfeeding, so we ended up formula feeding for the first year. Besides formula, baby’s solid food costs came out of our grocery budget. 

Car seats: $530

We ended up buying two new car seats ($350 and $180) before the year was through (babies grow out of infant seats). I chose nice ones, but they do come cheaper (and more cumbersome to install). 

Fun extra items: $300 (approximate)

Here I include clothes, toys, fun outings, and books that I purchased over the course of the year. I didn’t track these as closely but spent minimally. If I had to guess, I’d say I spent $300 or less.

How much having a baby really cost me (so far):

  • Hospital: $8,446.46
  • Daycare: $12,195
  • Healthcare Premiums: $6,736
  • Baby Gear/Misc.: $3,161
  • Time off: $2,500
  • Formula: $1,045
  • Car Seats: $530
  • Fun Extras: $300
  • Total: $34,913.46

In the words of my husband, upon hearing the almost $35,000 figure, “Good thing we squirreled all that money away, or else we’d be hosed.”

Expenses ended up being more than I had hoped, but I was prepared. My husband and I work full time and have health insurance. We keep a budget with an aggressive savings strategy. Our savings account was built with a big cushion in case things went wrong. While some of our spending was worked into our monthly budget, other parts came from our savings account. Still, spending almost $35,000 on your child’s first year is no small feat. 

If you’re thinking of having a baby, many variables can drive your total spend up or down. Maybe your hospital fees will be lower than mine. Maybe you’ll spring for a fancier stroller than I did. Your insurance situation may look completely different from mine. Maybe having a baby requires changes to your housing, whereas mine did not.

The path to becoming a parent will look different for every family. Hopefully sharing my baby spending tallies will help broaden the picture of maybes to sort through when you’re figuring out what to expect.

Julie Prokosch is a working mom who loves to read in her spare time. Her calm-down activities include yoga, writing, and reconciling her budget.

Image via Unsplash

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