I.R.S. weighs in on breastfeeding – kind of

New parents are in for a world of expenses – more than $240,000 over the next 18 years, according to recent government estimates – but this spring, there’s at least one new tax-related benefit for many of them.

The Internal Revenue Service announced this week that expenses related to breastfeeding will be tax-deductible, reversing a previous position.

An article in today’s New York Times explains the change:

[In the past] …the agency’s analysts said they viewed breast milk as nothing more than a healthy food – meaning that breast pumps, bottles and pads were no more deserving of a tax break than a vegetable steamer.

But in a letter dated Jan. 31, I.R.S. commissioner Douglas H. Shulman says breast pumps and other related expenses will qualify as medical expenses that are reimbursable for those with flexible health spending account.

The letter does not discuss the health benefits of breastfeeding, and, according to the Times, the agency would not elaborate on the policy change.

But it does make the I.R.S. the latest group to lend its weight, however unintentionally, to the “breastis best” attitude adopted by many of the country’s leading health groups. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend feeding infants only breast milk for their first six months.

About three-quarters of new mothers breastfeed at some point, but more than half stop before the 6-month mark, according to CDC data.

The new tax laws probably won’t do much to change those numbers – factors like spousal support and workplace circumstances are major factors in determining whether women choose to breastfeed – but they may save some parents a few dollars.

Score one for the college tuition fund.

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