Breastfeeding Gets A Boost Amid The Health Policy Wars

February 11, 2011

Julie Rovner

With the House expected to vote to defund last year's health overhaul law and frequent battles in the Senate over repealing the law all together, things have been pretty ugly here in Washington.

But this week brought a small win for moms. A group of lawmakers are celebrating a decision by the Internal Revenue Service to allow women to deduct the cost of breast pumps and other breastfeeding supplies.

The policy change means that from now on, taxpayers will be able to get back the money shelled out for breastfeeding supplies, which can cost hundreds of dollars.

It's not super easy (is anything dealing with the IRS easy?) But women in the know can now get reimbursed if they use money from their Health Savings Accounts or Flexible Spending Accounts. Or, they can deduct the costs from their income taxes — if they have other medical expenses that make up more than 7.5 percent of their income.

"This is good news for nursing moms, and a welcome recognition of scientific fact by the IRS: breastfeeding has significant health benefits," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), who has led the charge for over a decade. Previously, breastfeeding supplies weren't deductible because the IRS considered them a nutritional expense, rather than a medical one.

The change was also lauded by the American Academy of Pediatrics. "For years, the AAP has been urging the IRS to recognize that breast milk is not just the best and most natural food for infants; it confers well-documented health benefits on both baby and mother that cannot be obtained any other way," AAP President Dr. O. Marion Burton said in a statement.

Rep. Maloney was the lead sponsor of a 1999 law that expressly permits breastfeeding on federal property.

But apparently not everyone got the message. The Washington Post reported earlier this week that a woman attempting to breast-feed her baby on a bench at the Hirshhorn Art Museum (part of the federal Smithsonian complex) was asked by a security guard to do it in the ladies' restroom instead. When she said there was no place to sit in the restroom, the guard "told her to try sitting on the toilet."

In response, a number of breast-feeding mothers are planning a "nurse-in" at the museum this weekend. And it's now tax-deductible. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.