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IRS Says Breastfeeding Expenses Are Tax Write-Offs. Finally.

4 years ago
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Everyone markets it as cheap and easy. As in, "You can whip it out at any time." And, "It doesn't cost anything." And, "There's nothing to warm up."

To a degree, that's true. Traveling and doing it is liberating. And the middle of the night? You can do it in bed; you can do it while you watch TV. But "cheap" isn't really a good descriptor for something so time-consuming and ultimately, especially, but not only, for women who work or want to step away from their child, so many accoutrements. And cheap isn't a good way to applaud something that provides so many benefits down the road. Cheap connotes easy. Cheap connotes worthless. And maybe that's the problem.

I'm talking about breastfeeding, of course. Breastfeeding itself – which, if you count the countless hours breastfeeding women put in, is – while indubitably nutritious as well as wonderful -- far from free. And forget "free" when it comes to pumping. The state-of-the-art Medela backpack pump rings up at $264.99 (the "pump-in-style" hand bag can set you back $360). And that's before you extra valves ($7), bags for freezing ($10 for 50), extra tubing ($6), the "hands free" bodice that lets you pump and use a computer ($32). Some estimates put the yearly cost between $500 to $1,000.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has spent years trying to roll back the push of formula, trumpeting the benefits of breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of life (the World Health Organization promotes breastfeeding for two years). Breastfeeding gives kids good antibodies, immunities, is said to potentially guard against asthma, allergies, diabetes and obesity -- keeping kids well, long after they give up the nipple. A Harvard Medical School study published last spring in the journal Pediatrics estimated that if 90 percent of American women breastfed, 900 premature infant deaths would be prevented and patients and hospitals would see savings of $13 billion in lost wages and saved health care costs – so you might assume that doing so would be a tax write-off.

Until recently, you would have been wrong. As of this fall, the IRS position was that breastfeeding didn't have enough medical benefits to qualify as tax exempt.

Last week, the Internal Revenue Service finally agreed to allow 2010 taxes to reflect the costs of pumps and milk bags, as all the myriad ways in which to maintain breastfeeding while working or on the road can make "free" suddenly cost quite a bit of cash. That means women with flexible spending accounts can use their pre-tax dollars to pay for nursing supplies. Those who itemize can add them in to their health care costs.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., hailed the change in a statement. "This is good news for nursing moms, and a welcome recognition of scientific fact by the IRS: breastfeeding has significant health benefits -- it helps prevent disease, and is good for moms and for babies," Maloney said. "Anything we can do to encourage healthy choices is a good thing -- and this ruling definitely qualifies!"

But the IRS is not alone in trying not to think about breastfeeding for as long as possible. Last week Noriko Aita, a Rockville, Md. mom visiting the Hirshhorn Museum, was asked to feed her baby in a bathroom stall. She left, went home and Googled that federal law allows breastfeeding on federal property – anywhere and at anytime.

In response, a nurse-in was organized, and dozens of moms descended on the Smithsonian to breastfeed in public. "We're not protesting against [the museum]," one organizer told the Washington Post. "The nurse-in wasn't organized to elicit an apology. What happened to Nori happened because there was a lack of education and awareness. We want to ensure it doesn't happen to anybody else again."

As Dr. Melissa Bartick, one of the lead doctors of the Harvard breastfeeding benefits study pointed out to a USA Today reporter, the problem is seeing breastfeeding as a "lifestyle" choice rather than a "public health" benefit. Winning over the IRS is a triumph, to be sure, but one that's come years later than it should have.
Filed Under: Woman Up, Health Care, Taxes

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I am appalled at the number of breastfeeding moms who are so negative about this legislation that is PRO BREASTFEEDING!!! No one is saying everyone has to pump or that it is better than feeding your baby personally. However, in this day & age, many of us have to return to work and would like to continue providing this nourishement to our babies long after the legal 6-8 weeks we get off. In addition, we are still feeding our babies one-on-one in the morning, at night, and on weekends...which is only made possible by the fact that we continue spending every break we have at work pumping milk for our babies. I am a full time teacher and I breastfed both of my kids for a year each because I DID spend the $300 to get a good pump. Yes, that was a choice. No, I did not do it for a write off. But I think the decrease in health services my kids will likely need due to their healthy start is worth a deduction.

March 04 2011 at 11:38 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Pumps and bags have nothing to do with "breast-feeding."

Breast feeding is between the mother and her child. It provides essential nutriants and more for the baby and a natural bonding between the two.

Pumps do neither of the above. They are more for mothers who are not with their baby. The pump does what the baby should be doing and the bag is for storage.

February 20 2011 at 4:45 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Chris & Jennifer

Having a good pump will help you to breast feed longer and is a must for mothers of preemies. A good breast pump is not cheap. I rented the one from the hospital for $75 a month(Medela Symphony - the best). I wish I had been able to afford to buy the machine because it is so much better than the much smaller cheaper versions you see in the stores.

How does this tax write off help low income Moms, who don't have enough to itemize on their taxes? WIC should help with the cost of pumps or even have a lending system, that is where the help is needed, not tax forms.

When you get formula from WIC you have to get the kind that the State has a contract with even if a pediatrician says to use something else. Breast milk is best when possible.

February 20 2011 at 3:58 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I guess what they are saying is that if you buy all these pumps and stuff you can itemize it in with your medical expenses.--assuming you can itemize. I don't think the stay at home mom who nurses her kid until three can take any kind of a tax deduction. I don't know if you can itemize viagra too? I think birth control pills should come under medical expenses-I have no idea. But, boy that would be saving the taxpayers a lot of money in the long run.

February 20 2011 at 3:44 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

It is interesting to see how much political power there has to change IRS laws. Something as simple and good for humans to do as breastfeeding gets acceptance for a tax right off. I call that common sense.
Loop holes for the wealthy? Ignorance.

February 20 2011 at 10:01 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

To me, some women today are just lazy. When I had my two children I breast feed them for 2 months and during those two months home with them I also expressed their milk, which you can freeze for a couple of days. I had the manual hand pump and it did well. I saw the cost of the electric pumps and the prices were "outrageous". My kids continued to drink my breast milk months after I returned back to work and I wouldn't trade in my manual pump for anything. I was compact so I could take it anywhere instead of having a big, heavy and bulky bag weighing my shoulders down.

So, like many people are saying here, breast milk is FREE and women choose to electric pump as a "luxury" item and you're not obligated to go out and purchase a high end item.

February 20 2011 at 7:15 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Being a working mom and breastfeeding isn't the easiest thing to do. I'm glad that the goverment is doing this. Breastfeeding is the most unselfish act a woman can do. Not only does she hold the baby for 9 months but also gives up her right to eat and drink whatever she wants. I'm sorry that some people don't see breastfeeding as a beautiful thing. I do. My youngest is 3 months and the only time she has been to the doctor was for her 2 month shots. I also love the fact that if I have extra milk, I help others. I hope in the future, breastfeeding will became easier to do in public.

February 19 2011 at 4:47 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

Breastfeeding IS 100% free! Expensive pumps aren't necessary; if travelling, bring along a couple of bottles with formula. This is pretty sick, to expect IRS write-offs when women who also choose to have babies prefer to bottle-feed their infants which is NOT a write-off. Shame on the IRS for caving into fanatics' demands. It's bad enough when certain women foist their private choices onto the public (displaying breasts in public places with unabashed, exhibitionist pride) but to have American taxpayers help to foot the bill for something that is free is downright appalling.

February 17 2011 at 5:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wow, a lot of unnecessarily angry people. Encouraging people to do a positive thing by (potentially) lowering the cost with a tax break... shocking! not. That's the idea behind every tax cut, so why hate on this? It's not like the government is giving them a handout or driving up the cost of the alternatives to modify behavior. Besides, many women do need breast pumps in the capacity of a genuine medical device (illness, premature baby, inverted nipples, etc.) and should absolutely be able to write it off as a medical expense.

February 17 2011 at 1:36 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I see that Michelle Bachman (tur-er overdrive) has latched onto this issue. Natch. The breast once again becomes an object of contention, an an unfortunate symbol of everything that has gone wrong in this country from having too many children to paying a flat tax. I did not read all the comments, but I bet that someone blamed Obama for this deduction. Until the citizens of this country stop promoting their own self-interests and condemning the needs of others, we are going down the tubes. No one wants the other to get deductions, but don't you dare take away their god-given perks. We are a nation divided, not united and the political special interests like that just fine.

February 17 2011 at 1:16 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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