Finally: A Tax Break For Breastfeeding Mothers

Last Updated Feb 11, 2011 8:19 AM EST

Nursing mothers got a break yesterday. No, it wasn't a miracle cure to get Junior to sleep through the night, but some love from the IRS, of all places. The agency ruled that the cost of breast pumps and lactation supplies can be reimbursed through flexible spending accounts or counted toward a medical deduction.

To start deducting medical expenses, your medical and dental costs have to exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. But in the year you have a baby - with the obstetric care, childbirth preparation classes, pediatrician visits, and now the breast pump - you might get to that threshold faster than you think.

It's about time. The American Academy of Pediatrics has long advocated for this change to the tax code. "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 said in a statement. "The IRS has finally acknowledged this medical fact, and we applaud them for changing their regulations accordingly." The statement goes on to say that as many as 45% to 50% of mothers return to work within six months after giving birth; this ruling may enable them to continue breastfeeding longer.

Frankly, it seemed biased against mothers not to have included lactation supplies. Why were vasectomies and weight-loss programs considered allowable medical expenses, but not equipment to support breastfeeding? (And as any ravenous nursing mother will tell you, breastfeeding could qualify as a weight-loss program.) "It seemed a little bit arbitrary and capricious that they didn't allow it," says Barbara Kogen, CPA, a partner with the firm NSBN LLP in Beverly Hills, California, "because all other types of medical equipment, like hearing aid batteries, are deductible. The service finally realized it was more of a medical need and part of medical care."

Kogen reminds taxpayers that the change is retroactive to 2010, so go back and check your receipts as you prepare your 2010 return. If you're on the borderline for qualifying for a medical deduction, this change in rules might push you over the limit, as anyone who has ever been in the market for a hospital-grade pump understands. Those suckers can cost $350 and up.

I had a conversation with Michelle Eldridge, IRS spokeswoman, for a little clarification on exactly what's included. "So, um, are the creams, and say, nursing bras, do they qualify as medical expenses?" I asked her. Her response: "What the IRS recently reviewed was whether both breast pumps and supplies used in breastfeeding may qualify as medical expenses. What we concluded is that they can qualify as medical care because they affect the structure and function of the body," Eldredge said. "When looking at the supplies, what really is included in this is any item used primarily for extracting milk."

Extraction only. OK, so no go on the Lansinoh cream or the breathable Mommy undergarments from Title Nine sports. But all those pump and related parts, add 'em up. For any mother who has ever pumped in a workplace restroom to give her infant the added health benefits of breastmilk, the IRS, finally, feels your pain.

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