The IRS Hates Breastfeeding Moms

Sasha Brown-Worsham
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Well, it's official: The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) hates breastfeeding moms.

The IRS has ruled that flexible spending accounts -- the tax-sheltered accounts set up to cover legitimate medical expenses -- should not cover breast pumps or materials associated with breastfeeding because it "has ruled that breast-feeding does not have enough health benefits to quality as a form of medical care." 

Come again, IRS? Seriously?

They cover zit creams, pain killers, artificial turf (for allergy sufferers), but not breastfeeding pumps, which can be a pretty penny. Some of the best ones are close to $300 and often not covered by insurance.

Seriously, we can't do better than this?

The IRS completely ignored the growing body of research showing the many (many!) good things that come from breast milk. According to The New York Times:

The antibodies passed from mother to child in breast milk could reduce disease among infants -- including one recent study that found it could prevent the premature death of 900 babies a year.

And that's not all. Harvard Medical School did a study showing that if 90 percent of mothers followed the standard medical advice of feeding infants only breast milk for their first six months, the United States could save $13 billion a year in health care costs.

“The old adage that breast-feeding is a child’s first immunization is really is true,” said Dr. Robert W. Block, president-elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “So we need to do everything we can to remove the barriers that make it difficult.”

Why do so many people seem to want to make breastfeeding, maternity leave, and childcare so difficult? We are not asking for government handouts, but let's be serious. My husband and I pay $3,000 a month in childcare and only $5,000 a year is part of flex spending. And now my $300 breast pump that I was very lucky to have covered by insurance wouldn't be classified as a medical expense?

Do we want people to have children or not in this country?

The IRS likened breast milk to any healthy food and said pumps are no more deserving of a tax break than orange juicers. Yes, they seriously said that.

Oh, but lucky us! We do get one nod under the new health law. We will be permitted unpaid breaks to use breast pumps. Unpaid. Wow. Aren't we lucky to live in such a progressive country?

“There’s been a lot of progress in the past few years making the public, the medical establishment and even Congress recognize the health benefits of breast-feeding,” said Melissa Bonghi, a lactation consultant in Bainbridge Island, Wash. “But I guess the I.R.S. will just take a little longer.”

Breastfeeding advocates say they will return to Congress to get a tax break after being disappointed by the IRS, but the defeat says more about this country's attitude toward moms -- working moms, specifically -- than anything else.

Working moms need support to continue breastfeeding. They need places to pump privately and places in which to store that milk. The message the IRS seems to be sending is that breastfeeding is only for the wealthy, those who can afford $350 breast pumps and hundreds of dollars in accessories each year. No one is asking for anything for free. We are still paying for the pumps. It just makes sense to at least give a little tax break on such a big purchase.

And while the IRS will make exceptions for mothers who get notes from the doctor saying breastfeeding is "medically necessary," it seems a little ridiculous to have to jump through so many hoops for a service that should be a given.

But oh no. That would be too easy. Let's not make it easier for working moms. That would be way too progressive for our bootstrapping country where nothing is free. Except AstroTurf, natch.

What do you think of this rule?

 

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