That's what the IRS decided when they sat down and hammered out the revised flexible-spending rules under the new healthcare plan. You couldn't use flex spending to pay for your breast pump before these rules went into effect, either, so it's not like new moms have lost out on something they once had. But it sure would have been nice if the new rules -- which go into effect in January -- could have helped moms breastfeed longer.
According to the New York Times, the IRS argues that breast milk is food and not a form of preventive care, so it shouldn't be covered under the new regulations. The IRS has taken a host of over-the-counter medicines (allergy medicine, cough medicine, aspirin, ibuprofen) off the eligible list, too. So next time you show up at Rite-Aid with your flex-spending card, be prepared for some serious changes.
But back to the breast pumps. I get the contradiction: Breastfeeding is natural; it's not medicine, it's food. But it has also been pretty well documented that breast milk contains a host of antibodies that reduce disease among babies. One recent study found that breastfeeding could prevent the deaths of 900 babies in the U.S. a year.
For a follow-up story on ABCNews.com, I spoke about my situation with writer Susan Donaldson James. According to her piece, health officials and breastfeeding advocates insist that anything that could make breastfeeding easier for moms would be good for the health of babies -- and save millions of dollars in healthcare costs every year.
"Human breast milk is the best first food for babies," AAP's president-elect, Dr. Robert W. Block, told James. "The nutrition in breast milk is important in its ability to stave off infection when they are in the first months of life and don't have the recuperative powers. We are critically in favor of anything that allows moms to breastfeed."
Moms pump for a variety of reasons, but the main reason we pump is because we have to go back to work and still want our infants to benefit from our milk. Maternity-leave policies in this country are already shamefully lacking. Offering moms a modest tax break for buying necessary equipment to keep our newborns healthy seems like a reasonable proposition.
We can't breastfeed if we can't pump when we're away. So, while the American Academy of Pediatrics is busily encouraging moms to nurse more and longer, it would be nice if we could use our pre-tax income to buy the ridiculously expensive pumps, pads and tubing that we need to get the milk to our babies when we're not with them.