Flexible Healthcare Savings Accounts Now Allow Breast Pumps and Supplies

The IRS has sent U.S. breastfeeding mothers and babies a Valentine.

Not in the form of a refund check, but involving cost-savings, nonetheless! A February 10th press release announcing the IRS rescinded the previous exclusion of use of flexible healthcare savings accounts for breast pump purchases and supplies.

Senators Merkley and Harkin and Reps. Levin and Maloney released the following statement:

“Today’s decision is a huge victory for nursing mothers everywhere.  Modern medicine has documented numerous health benefits linked to breastfeeding, including a reduced risk of illness in infants and a reduced risk of cancer in mothers.  And because breastfeeding is so effective in preventing disease, it also happens to save billions in health care costs.  We thank the IRS for their careful consideration and quick response.” 

Obviously, this news was embraced by the breastfeeding community. It falls right in place with other exciting support by government agencies and other supporters that have happened in 2011. My previous blogs have discussed these in-roads; if this momentum continues, it promises to be quite a year!

The media fall-out when the IRS disallowed tax-exempt status made big news in the mainstream media, as well as breastfeeding circles (naturally!). But it would be remiss to not mention the on-going support and tireless efforts of the politicians who were instrumental in the reversed IRS ruling. Particularly a big shout-out to Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), a long-standing supporter of breastfeeding causes. She and her colleagues have worked in tandem with the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee to facilitate laws to protect nursing mothers and babies.

What helped spur the reversal? A letter sent to the IRS in November 2010 by lawmakers included:

The decision by the IRS is at odds with the growing body of medical evidence showing that breastfeeding has proven health benefits for both mothers and babies,” the lawmakers wrote.  “Extensive medical research has demonstrated that breast milk goes beyond nutrition and contains antibodies, anti-infective agents, and immunoglobulins that prevent disease….Children who are breastfed have decreased risk of asthma and other respiratory illnesses, bacterial and viral infections, ear infections, jaundice, leukemia, type 1 diabetes, obesity, among other ailments.”…

“We have long known the benefits of breastfeeding — for mothers, babies and society as a whole,” said Harkin. “So it makes little sense that new mothers who only want to provide the best for their children face an additional burden with the high cost of breast pumps and related supplies.  This adjustment would represent a common-sense change, removing barriers to breastfeeding, while increasing the health of infants and babies.”

Apparently, the IRS heeded this message. Bravo!

Valentine’s Day is my favorite holiday….my second baby Erin Elizabeth was born on February 14th. While you enjoy this Valentine’s Day, consider the heart-warming benefits breastfeeding affords you: A University of Pittsburgh study published in the May 2009 issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology focused on the breastfeeding history of nearly 140,000 middle-aged mothers, all in their 50s.

The study found that breastfeeding may protect women from heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. Amazingly the study suggests that women who breastfeed for more than a year are up to 20% less likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke.

Cited in the about study: “Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women, so it’s vitally important for us to know what we can do to protect ourselves,” said Eleanor Bimla Schwarz, M.D., M.S., assistant professor of medicine, epidemiology, and obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of Pittsburgh. The University of Pittsburgh study also found that even a single month of breastfeeding lowers the risk of many health issues which can lead to heart disease such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. As such Dr. Schwarz commented “The longer a mother nurses her baby, the better for both of them… Our study provides another good reason for workplace policies to encourage women to breastfeed their infants.”

Breastmilk and Valentines (and a little chocolate) to all!