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March 25, 2011

Breastfeeding, part II

At this point, Breastfeeding, part I was a laughably long time ago.  But since I wrote most of this post in mid-February, I thought it was time to finish it up.  Gotta git ‘er done, you know.

I thought my part two was going to be more reflective about my personal experiences, kind of a summation to the journey that was breastfeeding for me.  But I find that my emotions are running very high as I approach total weaning, and those emotions are not adequately translating into words yet.  This no doubt ensures that there will be a part three somewhere down the line.

But in the meantime, there was a recent [February, remember] firestorm related to breastfeeding and I don’t mind saying that I got a wee bit ticked over it.  It started with the IRS announcing that breastfeeding expenses (pumps, storage containers, etc.) would now be tax-deductible because they are considered a medical expense.  I liked this article discussing the issue for two reasons.  First, I totally agree that “cheap and easy” is not the most appropriate way to describe breastfeeding — and anyone who uses “easy” in particular has either never done it, doesn’t remember what those first two or three months (at least) are like, or is one of the lucky few to have a MIRACULOUSLY smooth run with it.  Second, I like the note that it ends on: even if I fully support every mom’s right to make that choice for herself and her baby (and I do), I still think that breastfeeding is a public health issue and should be treated as such.

Within days of the IRS announcement, Michelle Obama was flamed for saying that she supports making it easier for mothers to breastfeed their babies.  I’m not a die-hard Obama fan and I didn’t vote for her husband, but it really, really annoys me to see politicians turning breastfeeding into something highly politicized.  But even that I could live with it, if the attacks were at least factually based.  But oh-my-freaking-goodness, I cannot stand political rhetoric that is completely based in fiction, which is exactly what Michele Bachmann of the Tea Party was spreading after the IRS changes came down:

To think that government has to go out and buy my breast pump for my babies? You want to talk about the nanny state? I think you just got a new definition of the nanny state.

Now, I’m not a careful observer of Michele Bachmann, so I’m not making statements about her beyond this issue.  But I was seriously disturbed by her statement because it indicates to me that either 1) she has no idea what a tax deduction actually is (in which case, she doesn’t belong in the House of Representatives where she might actually have some influence over tax policy — if you don’t get Taxes 101, you don’t belong in the upper division) or 2) she is far too willing to distort the truth for political gain (if you want to read a more detailed fact-check of her statement, or learn what a tax deduction is — and then share that critical info with Ms. Bachmann — you can check out this Politifact article).

Another aspect of this whole back-and-forth about the IRS changes that annoyed me was a comment from a legal fellow at the Family Research Council (referenced in the same Washington Post article).  She said:

Giving tax breaks for breast pumps helps only those moms who are working outside the home and does nothing for us stay-at-home moms.

This comment I just find perplexing.  It makes me wonder how many stay-at-home breastfeeding moms she knows.  Because I’m one, and I bought a breast pump (and it wasn’t cheap, although I got a smoking hot deal on it — ask me about it if you live in Utah and are in the market for one!) and indeed, it was my daily companion for more than a year even though I never worked outside the home for more than an hour or two at a time.  And I know I’m not alone because virtually every breastfeeding mom I know also bought, rented, or otherwise used a breast pump at some point.  To me, a breast pump tax deduction in no way benefits only those working outside the home.  And even if it did, I would not be bothered by that.  Being a mom is hard stuff in any configuration, and I’m supportive of measures that make that just a little bit easier for moms as well as supporting the health of infants.

Oh guys, can you tell I get all angsty and worked-up about these issues?  It’s more than a month later and I still get annoyed re-reading these comments (although when I was first talking to people about this, I recall repeatedly using the word asinine so you’ve at least been spared that by a month-long delay).  It is a delicate thing to simultaneously say, I respect other mothers’ breastfeeding/formula-feeding choices AND I think breastfeeding is an important public health issue that deserves respect and support in the public sphere.  But that is exactly where I stand: I don’t want to make the decision for every mother and child in their own unique circumstances, but I also want to shout-out far and wide that our nation’s babies will be healthier (indeed, at least one well-regarded study estimates that 900 babies per year would be saved if 90% of American women breastfeed for the first six months of life) if we encourage and support breastfeeding in every way we can.



  1. I agree with you one hundred percent. I stay at home but use a breast pump to get out and when I had an infection and frankly I had so much milk that when my kids start sleeping though the night I had to pump just to not wake in a puddle of milk. I would love a tax break. I can’t understand why people would get so up in arms about a possibly $300 tax break for the people that would benefit public health, when the real problems we have come from coporate tax shelters and big business breaks. This is why I have never understood the tea party people. They are so willing to take the bullet themselves- no help from the government, no taxes, no services, when the common people aren’t the problem. Whatever. Support for breastfeeding is definatly a public health issue that we should all support.

    Comment by Emily Larkin — March 25, 2011 @ 12:38 pm

  2. I guess I should clarify that I don’t personally benefit from the IRS change, even though I bought a breast pump in 2010, because I neither have an employer-sponsored FSA or have enough deductions to itemize.

    Comment by llcall — March 25, 2011 @ 5:56 pm

  3. I love reading your blog! Hey let me know about how you got a smoking hot deal on a pump, I am in the market for one before this next baby comes!

    Comment by Shannie — March 26, 2011 @ 7:44 am

  4. And I’m glad you got that breastpump, too.

    Comment by angie — April 1, 2011 @ 3:36 pm

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