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Michelle Obama to Promote Breastfeeding as IRS Gives Tax Breaks for Nursing

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First lady Michelle Obama will be speaking out to remove barriers to breastfeeding, Politics Daily has learned, throwing the spotlight on nursing as a way to reduce childhood obesity.

This comes as the Obama administration in the past year has made several moves to encourage breastfeeding -- including a push for more flexible workplace rules and an Internal Revenue Service ruling on Thursday that breast pumps and other nursing supplies qualify for tax breaks.

Mrs. Obama -- who has spoken in public about nursing her youngest daughter, Sasha -- is going to tread carefully in what might be a sensitive area for some women -- and not use her bully pulpit to directly ask more women to breast feed.

"Breastfeeding is a very personal choice for every woman," Kristina Schake, Mrs. Obama's communications chief, told Politics Daily. "We are trying to make it easier for those who choose to do it."

Last week, Mrs. Obama touched on breastfeeding strategy at a lunch with 10 print reporters who cover her to mark the first anniversary of her "Let's Move" anti-childhood obesity campaign.

Looking ahead to what she will do in the second year of "Let's Move," Mrs. Obama said: "We also want to focus on the important touch points in a child's life. And what we're learning now is that early intervention is key. Breastfeeding. Kids who are breastfed longer have a lower tendency to be obese.

"We want to get into child-care centers, day-care centers, and start talking about how -- what kind of snacks they're getting there. We want to have those conversations at an earlier level. But those are just some of the things that you'll see."

Breastfeeding rates are low among African-American mothers compared to other racial and ethnic groups, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Mrs. Obama took note of this when she addressed the Congressional Black Caucus Conference on Sept. 10.

"And because it's important to prevent obesity early, we're also working to promote breastfeeding, especially in the black community -- where 40 percent of our babies never get breastfed at all, even in the first weeks of life, and we know that babies that are breastfed are less likely to be obese as children," she said.

Robin Schepper, executive director of "Let's Move," told Politics Daily, Mrs. Obama wants to increase breastfeeding rates but "is not telling women to breastfeed ... but wants to make it easier for moms by encouraging hospitals to change practices so after a baby is born, the baby is in the room with them."

Toward that goal, Mrs. Obama is going to push more hospitals to be certified as "Baby Friendly" by Baby Friendly USA, a non-governmental organization that works with the United Nations Children's Fund, or UNICEF, to increase breastfeeding opportunities. Only 3 percent of births occur at U.S. hospitals with the "Baby Friendly" designation."

In a "Let's Move" policy report issued last May, one of the problems mothers may have with breastfeeding starts in the hospital where after birth, "many babies are unnecessarily given formula and separated from their mothers, making it harder to start and practice breastfeeding."

Meanwhile, the Internal Revenue Service announced Thursday that the costs for "breast pumps and supplies that assist lactation are medical care" are now, under the IRS code eligible for tax breaks. That means that breastfeeding supplies could be treated as deductible medical expenses and/or be reimbursed under flexible spending plans.

In the child nutrition bill President Obama signed Dec. 13, the WIC program for low-income women -- the nickname for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children -- provides more breastfeeding counseling and supplies to eligible mothers.

The Affordable Care Act signed by Obama on March 13 -- the health care overhaul Republicans are trying to repeal -- requires certain employers to give nursing mothers break time and a place -- not a bathroom -- to express milk. The Labor Department is in charge of enforcement; the law covers a baby's first year.

Obama also ordered federal agencies to provide time and private space for nursing mothers and is encouraging bosses to give the same treatment to professional women who may not be covered by Labor Department rules.

White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett -- and chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls -- noted in a post at last December that workplace rules have a major impact on a woman's decision whether to nurse.

"While 75 percent of women initially breastfeed their baby, after six months only 43 percent are still breastfeeding at all," Jarrett wrote. "One of the most common reasons mothers cite for discontinuing breastfeeding is returning to work and not having break time or a private space to express milk. Many studies have shown these types of worksite supports help women continue to breastfeed after returning to work."

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I breastfed both of my children for longer than most. It was not easy at first with my first born. Were it not for the support of my breastfeeding support group, led by a certified breastfeeding counselor who was one of the most caring, nurturing persons I have ever known, I probably would have given up. The La Leche League was also very helpful. I encourage all women who choose this option and become frustrated early on to seek the support of other women who have had successful and fulfilling breastfeeding experiences, and all the free support programs available to them. Not only is it optimal for the child, but it saves thousands of hours and dollars. I can't believe how much formula costs!

February 21 2011 at 4:07 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Good grief. How everybody can seem to get tax breaks except me?

what's next? Getting a tax break because you are a Dem and are breathing?

February 21 2011 at 3:51 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply


February 21 2011 at 3:34 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Icebluee's comment

No, I think the responsibility for our broke nation lies with the Bush administration which allowed the deregulation of greedy big business practices.
I suggest that you take the time to do the research you will discover the fact that when Bush entered office we had a surplus. When he left we were trillions in debt. Neither the "Obamas", nor the Democrats, created this fiasco...greed did.
Why does every comment section end up as a political debate anyway?

February 21 2011 at 4:14 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

No one is talking about being "paid to breastfeed." Did you read the article? The goal is to remove barriers to breastfeeding: providing nursing breaks and places suitable for expressing milk, treating costs for equipment/supplies as a medical equipment (making them tax deductible/FSA reimbursable), and providing support to low-income women who choose to breast-feed through their clinic or healthcare provider.

It's unfortunate that people get worked up without knowing the facts.

February 21 2011 at 5:45 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

If they did away with WIC and stopped accepting food stamps for pre-mixed formula, you'd see how fast breastfeeding would catch on.

February 21 2011 at 3:25 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Peg's comment

I don't think that's the answer (because it is a personal and unpredictable choice...i.e. adoption, foster home situations, the health and working status of mother, etc.), however I don't understand why it hasn't caught on based on its own merits. It's easy (once you and your infant get the hang of it), it's inexpensive, it's convenient, and it's good for both child AND mother.
I appreciate your logic though :)

February 21 2011 at 4:28 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Mind your own business! Where does Govt. intrusion end?

February 19 2011 at 9:35 PM Report abuse +10 rate up rate down Reply

Yes! Misses Obama. and also for the people that think that breastfeeding in public is bad, for not saying something else. good for you our first lady!

February 19 2011 at 2:18 PM Report abuse -7 rate up rate down Reply

Stupid to have a tax break for this. I breastfed my children for 6+ months and never got a tax break. It's obvious that mrs obama didn't follow her own advice since she and her children are obese.

February 19 2011 at 7:14 AM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to nnanciejean's comment

Most moms do not breastfeed, that's the problem!

February 19 2011 at 9:16 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I really don't see how you can say that Michelle and her children are obese. Have you seen pictures of them?

The tax break is not for the actual act of breastfeeding, it's for the supplies and resources some mothers need to do so. I am nursing my 1 yo and my 3 yo but under these proposed changes I wouldn't get any money back since I don't own a pump and have never used a lactation consultant. However, I think it would be great to have these things covered as medical expenses.

March 06 2011 at 6:11 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

most moms breast feed any way these days. I don't understand this tax break for this!?

February 18 2011 at 3:32 PM Report abuse +10 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to vaspouse1's comment

Kudos for Mrs Obama! Childhood obesity is a real problem that few have the courage to discuss. Obesity can lead to health problems - physical & emotional and truthfully are extremely expensive to treat. Think diabetes, stroke, heart disease and joint issues. I have seen at work where the managers who have their own offices get "pumping time' in privacy and on the clock. The hourly workers have to use their lunch hour and pump in the rest room and store the milk in their lockers not the nice private refrigerators in the corner offices. I have also seen parents who could not afford the pumps- some of the electric ones are in the hundreds. The hand held ones are inexpensive but slow. Come on give new moms and their babies a break.

February 18 2011 at 11:29 AM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to hello's comment

Anybody seen Michele's youngest daughter? She seems fairly OBESE to me! Maybe she should concentrate on what happens in her own house and stop sticking her nose into everyone elses.

February 21 2011 at 3:54 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

It's too bad that Mrs. Obama can't get behind a REAL CAUSE that is worth talking about; the cause to save unborn babies so that they CAN live to be breastfed. Abortion does so must more damage to the unborn child, his mother, father, grandparents. It inflicts wounds that will never heal. Our priorities in this country are so terribly misplaced.

Her husband believes in, and has voted in favor of, letting aborted babies who survive abortion be left to die with no medical assistance in unspeakable pain, i.e. broken limbs, burned skin, brains sucked out by scissors. Now that's an issue I can get excited about. Not whether a mother chooses to breastfeed her child. My child was adopted so I did not have the option. I support those women what ever they choose to do, AFTER THEIR BABIES ARE BORN

February 18 2011 at 12:33 AM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply

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