It’s not often that something crosses my desk at work that readers of purebebe might find interesting, but last Thursday something did…
The IRS has announced that breast pumps and breastfeeding supplies will now qualify as a medical expense under the tax law.
So what does this mean for you?? It means that you can now use flex spending or medical/health savings account dollars to purchase breast pumps and breastfeeding supplies, i.e. breast pads, nipple shields, etc. And for those who do not use or have FSA dollars, the expenses would be eligible for the itemized medical expense deduction. To qualify for the medical expense deduction, you’d have to incur expenses above 7.5% of your adjusted gross income but when you take into account other expenses of pregnancy and delivery incurred during the year, it may not be hard to get there in some cases. This ruling is effective immediately and can be used on 2010 tax returns, according to the IRS. More information is expected to be published in the IRS publication on medical expenses: Publication 502.
For years, the IRS deemed breast pumps to be feeding equipment and not medical devices, but ask any nursing mother and she’ll tell you that the benefits of breastfeeding are not solely for nutrition and that the need for a breast pump is not solely to feed her baby (can you say engorgement??). Time and time again, studies have shown that breastfeeding provides numerous health benefits for infants, including providing immune-boosting antibodies and reducing the risk of SIDS and other illnesses.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breastfeed their infants for the first year, but as we wrote previously only 43% are still breastfeeding at 6 months and 22% at 12 months. A number of reasons are to blame, but returning to work is a major obstacle for many women. As many as 45 to 50% of women return to work within the first 6 months of their infant’s birth. A breast pump can be a significant expense, but it is also a necessity for a working mother who wishes to continue breastfeeding. This move by the IRS, in conjunction with earlier legislation passed by the government requiring private spaces and break time for working mothers, is a big step in the right direction.
Speaking of the earlier legislation, I’ve learned that the Department of Labor (DOL) who is responsible for enforcing the break time for nursing mothers law is actually seeking comments from working mothers as it considers how best to help employers and employees understand and implement the requirements of the break time for nursing mothers law.
The DOL has received a number of requests for guidance on the legislation, and as a result has issued this request for comments which does also include some guidance. The guidance primarily addresses considerations in determining how much time a mother might need to pump as well as what constitutes adequate space, and while I think they’ve offered some great guidance for employers and employees in an office environment, the DOL acknowledges that their guidance is lacking and has identified the following specific areas where they are seeking input:
- To what extent rooms adjoining a bathroom or a locker room would be considered acceptable private space for pumping – the guidance highlights concerns about bacteria in wet environments such as a locker room making such a space possibly inadequate.
- In a non-office environment, to what extent offices, closets, or other shared space arrangements could be considered adequate.
- Creative solutions for employees not in the typical office environment, i.e. employees on the move such as bus drivers and mail delivery employees; employees in retail, restaurant, construction industries; employees located off-site at client locations – The DOL would like examples from nursing mothers of accommodations that have worked for them so that they can share such ideas with employers seeking guidance. In situations where an employee is located at a client’s office, the DOL believes it is still the employer’s obligation to ensure the employee has a space to pump and should make arrangements with the client for the employee.
- How best to address notification by employees to their employers of the need to express milk. The DOL does give employers the right to ask an expectant mother if she intends to pump in order to inform her of her rights and to be prepared to make any adjustments needed to comply with the law.
- What kind of information and resources would be most helpful to employers as they seek to comply and to employees as they look to exercise their rights under the law
The Department has established a website that provides a compilation of resources that employers can use as they develop workplace lactation programs: http://www.dol.gov/whd/nursingmothers
If you have experiences or thoughts you’d like to share, you can submit your comment here – but hurry, comments are due by Tuesday, February 22nd!
Personally, I plan to submit a comment suggesting that they also consider the needs of a mother who may be required to travel for business, and how hotels can or should be required to accommodate nursing mothers away from their children on business. I recently encountered a hotel that was not at all helpful, but more about that in another post.
CDC Issues Breastfeeding Report Card for 2010
When Duty Calls…Traveling Away From Your Breastfed Infant
10 Tips for a Successful Start to Breastfeeding
Got Milk? Maintaining Your Milk Supply When Returning to Work
Miracle at Birth: Mom’s Final Goodbye Brings Life to her Child