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.