THE DETAILS: Breast pumps can cost anywhere from $65 to $500, and moms usually have to buy storage bags or bottles on top of that. The United States Breastfeeding Committee estimates that these breastfeeding supplies can cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000 for a year. Those supplies are usually crucial to moms who go back to work after three to six months of maternity leave and want to continue breastfeeding, says Richard J. Schanler, MD, associate chairman of the department of pediatrics and chief of neonatal-perinatal medicine at Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York at North Shore, and chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP's) section on breastfeeding. "On the other hand, you have mothers of hospitalized babies, premies, and mothers who need to maintain their milk supply mechanically. These women can't always afford this."
The AAP initially petitioned the IRS to make these supplies tax deductible because the organization felt that cost burdens presented a barrier to breastfeeding for the recommended full year of a child's life. Dr. Schanler notes that he's heard of women switching to formula when they go back to work because the up-front costs of breastfeeding equipment are so high.
In a statement applauding the IRS's decision, the AAP's president, O. Marion Burton, MD, said, "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." Unlike formula, breast milk wards off sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), obesity, ear and respiratory infections, GI disorders, type 1 and 2 diabetes, allergies, asthma, and leukemia later in life. And though these moms are getting a tax deduction, they're actually saving the country billions of dollars by breastfeeding. A study in last April's issue of Pediatrics found that the U.S. could save $13 billion in child healthcare costs if 90 percent of mothers breastfed exclusively for six months; and even if only 30 percent of new moms did, the country would still save $2 billion. The IRS tax deduction, says Dr. Schanlen, "is a real acknowledgement of the importance of breastfeeding."
WHAT IT MEANS: Start digging through your receipts box. This new rule goes into effect for 2010 tax filings, so if you had a baby last year, any such expenses you incurred can be deducted this tax season. And you may have first lady Michelle Obama to thank for it. Along with the AAP, Mrs. Obama was encouraging the IRS to adopt the new tax code has part of her "Let's Move" childhood obesity initiative, because of breastfeeding's proven benefits to child weight. She's also trying to promote UNICEF's "Baby Friendly" hospital program, which certifies hospitals that offer exceptional support for moms who want to breastfeed. And she wants to initiate breastfeeding education programs in minority communities, where breastfeeding rates fall below the national average.
The Affordable Care Act of 2010, otherwise known as the healthcare bill, now requires certain workplaces to provide nursing mothers with non-bathroom private space to express milk. Now that supplies are tax deductible, any mother who chooses to breastfeed should be able to do so.
Despite all these efforts, you may still find it hard to breastfeed for your baby's first full year, so here are some coping strategies:
• Consider a rental. Dr. Schanlen suggests renting a breast pump if the cost of purchasing one remains too high, despite the tax rebate. You can find hospital-grade breast pumps for rent online for about $45 a month.
• Find a baby-friendly hospital. As mentioned, UNICEF's "Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative" recognizes hospitals that provide support and educational resources for mothers who want to breastfeed. Hospitals participating in the program don’t hand out free samples of baby formula to mothers as they leave with a newborn, for example. You can see a list of participating hospitals and birth centers at www.babyfriendlyusa.org.
• Consult a consultant. A lactation consultant can help you out in those first trying days after the baby arrives, which is usually when breastfeeding is most difficult. You can find one through the International Lactation Consultant Association. If your health insurance won't cover consultants, find a local chapter of the La Leche League, where mothers can bring babies and talk about breastfeeding.
• Watch for your baby's signs. The longer you breastfeed, the more benefits you'll see, both for yourself and for your baby, and the easier it'll be to pick up on your baby's hunger signs, such as making suckling or smacking sounds, chewing on his fist, or turning her head back and forth.
• Plan for a breastfeeding-friendly workplace before you take maternity leave. Though the new healthcare law will make workplaces more breastfeeding-friendly, it doesn't hurt to discuss your plans with your boss before you go on maternity leave. Make sure there will be a private area where you can pump discreetly when you return, and if you encounter any resistance, remind your boss that breastfeeding moms take fewer sick days (as do their spouses) because breastfed babies are less susceptible to illness.