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The IRS and Breast Pumps

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This is really outrageous.  The IRS says you can get a tax break for your dentures or your acne cream.  But try to use your medical flexible spending account for your breast pump, and the IRS says no way. From a story in today’s New York Times:

…That is because the Internal Revenue Service has ruled that breast-feeding does not have enough health benefits to quality as a form of medical care.

With all the changes the health care overhaul will bring in the coming years, it nonetheless will leave those regulations intact when new rules for flexible spending accounts go into effect in January. Those allow millions of Americans to set aside part of their pretax earnings to pay for unreimbursed medical expenses.

While breast-feeding supplies weren’t allowed under the old regulations either, one major goal of the health care overhaul was to control medical costs by encouraging preventive procedures like immunizations and screenings.

Despite a growing body of research indicating that the antibodies passed from mother to child in breast milk could reduce disease among infants — including one recent study that found it could prevent the premature death of 900 babies a year — the I.R.S. has denied a request from the American Academy of Pediatrics to reclassify breast-feeding costs as a medical care expense…

I.R.S. officials say they consider breast milk a food that can promote good health, the same way that eating citrus fruit can prevent scurvy. But because the I.R.S. code considers nutrition a necessity rather than a medical condition, the agency’s analysts view the cost of breast pumps, bottles and pads as no more deserving of a tax break than an orange juicer.

Many mothers’ groups and medical experts say that breast milk provides nutrition and natural supplements that prevent disease, and would like to see its use expanded. Hospital accreditation groups have been prodding maternity wards to encourage parents to feed only breast milk until a child is 6 months old.

The new health law does include one breakthrough for nursing mothers, a mandate that they be permitted unpaid breaks to use breast pumps. Spurned by tax authorities, breast-feeding advocates say they will return to Congress to get a tax break, too….

So what do you think? Leave a comment below.

NYT Story on Breastfeeding and Weight Loss

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The Motherlode blog on the NYT has a story about how the New York State Department of Health’s breastfeeding campaign focuses on one benefit of breastfeeding… weight loss. From the New York Times:

This fall, the New York State Department of Health created a series of TV ads aimed at women who qualify for assistance with the cost of groceries. Although some of the ads speak of long-term health benefits, the one creating the most buzz focuses on a more immediate result. It looks like an ad for a weight-loss product, with a woman dancing happily, boasting she has lost 16 pounds — and crediting breastfeeding rather than NutriSystem.

So what do you think of the ad?  Here it is:

Book Review of Mommy Breastfeeds My Baby Brother

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What a sweet book!  “Mommy Breastfeeds My Baby Brother” is a new picture book for young kids.  The story follows a young girl Jenna as her baby brother comes home from the hospital. Jenna learns how her mom breastfeeds, sometimes pumps milk, and how her dad can give the baby a bottle of pumped milk.  Here’s the book’s website,  And a link to the first-time author Mark Repkin’s  bio.

Note: The publisher sent me this book for free.

New York’s New Breastfeeding Campaign

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Kudos to The New York State Department of Health for it’s new breastfeeding campaign. The campaign,”Breastfeeding…For my Baby. For Me.” includes TV spots, online ads, and ads on buses and bus shelters statewide. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is funding the campaign.  It will run through the end of October, and aims to reach out to new and expectant mothers, primarily in lower-income areas.  From the campaign’s press release:

Physicians recommend that mothers exclusively breastfeed for the first six months and continue to breastfeed beyond 12 months. For most women, breastfeeding is the safest and healthiest choice, as breast milk contains the recommended amount of nutrients and changes to meet baby’s growing needs.

Research shows that breastfed babies have higher IQs, stronger immune systems, and a lower risk of certain types of childhood cancers, allergies, and respiratory and gastrointestinal ailments.

Breastfeeding also has benefits for the new mother and has been shown to:

  • Help the mother’s body recover from pregnancy and labor by shrinking her uterus back to size and reducing any bleeding after childbirth.
  • Burn about 500 calories a day, so mothers more easily lose the weight gained during pregnancy.
  • Lower the risk of ovarian cancer and some forms of breast cancer.
  • Strengthen bones, helping to protect mothers against osteoporosis later in life.
  • Protect against Type 2 diabetes.
  • Help ward off depression.
  • Save time and money. Unlike formula, breast milk is always the right temperature and requires no bottles to wash and sterilize.

Information on breastfeeding can be obtained by calling the Growing up Healthy Hotline at 1-800-522-5006 or on the DOH Web site at

New York Times Article About Breastfeeding Rates

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The New York Times picked up the story from the CDC about the latest breastfeeding statistics.  The Times noted:

Fewer than half of all babies are being breast-fed at 6 months. Three-quarters of women who gave birth in 2007 began breast-feeding, meeting a goal set by the government’s Healthy People 2010 program, the C.D.C. reported. But the number of mothers who continued to breast-feed through a child’s first year has not increased, agency officials said.

Only 43 percent of mothers are still nursing at 6 months and only 22 percent breast-feed for a full year, falling short of the national goal of having half of new mothers breast-feed for six months and 25 percent for a full year.

Breast-feeding is encouraged because of its many benefits for both mother and infant. But women often do not get the support they need in the hospital and may have a hard time continuing to breast-feed once they return to work, C.D.C. officials said.

Michelle Obama and Breastfeeding

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First Lady Michelle Obama spoke recently about her efforts to combat childhood obesity through a group called Let’s Move. Speaking before the Congressional Black Caucus, she said obesity is a national epidemic and is especially a problem in African American communities.  During the speech she highlighted the importance of breastfeeding:

And because it’s important to prevent obesity early, we’re also working to promote breastfeeding, especially in the black community — (applause) — where 40 percent of our babies never get breast-fed at all, even in the first weeks of life, and we know that babies that are breast-fed are less likely to be obese as children.

From the Let’s Move website:

The Let’s Move! campaign, started by First Lady Michelle Obama, has an ambitious national goal of solving the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation so that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight. Let’s Move! will combat the epidemic of childhood obesity through a comprehensive approach that will engage every sector impacting the health of children and will provide schools, families and communities simple tools to help kids be more active, eat better, and get healthy.

Mrs. Obama began a national conversation about the health of America’s children when she broke ground on the White House Kitchen Garden with students from a local elementary school in Washington, DC. Through the garden, she began a discussion with kids about nutrition and the role food plays in living a healthy life. That discussion grew into the Let’s Move! campaign.

At the launch of the campaign, President Barack Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum creating the first ever Task Force on Childhood Obesity to conduct a review of every single program and policy relating to child nutrition and physical activity and develop a national action plan to maximize federal resources and set concrete benchmarks toward the First Lady’s national goal. The Task Force’s recommendation focus on the four pillars of the First Lady’s Let’s Move! campaign:

  1. empowering parents and caregivers
  2. providing healthy food in schools
  3. improving access to healthy, affordable foods
  4. increasing physical activity.

This problem can’t be solved just by passing laws in Washington. It’s going to take all of us—governors, mayors, doctors, nurses, businesses, non-profits, educators, parents—to tackle the challenge once and for all, so Let’s Move to end the epidemic of childhood obesity together.

Major Similac Recall

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Similac recalled about 5 million cans of powdered infant formula because of the possible presence of beetle larva.

The FDA said that this type of beetle could cause stomach problems and make infants lose their appetite.

The makers of Similac, Abbott Laboratories, has set up a phone hotline and directed consumers to a website for more information.  But a lot of parents have experienced problems getting information.

From the Similac website:

Abbott is recalling these products following an internal quality review, which detected the remote possibility of the presence of a small common beetle in the product produced in one production area in a single manufacturing facility. The United States Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA) has determined that while the formula containing these beetles poses no immediate health risk, there is a possibility that infants who consume formula containing the beetles or their larvae, could experience symptoms of gastrointestinal discomfort and refusal to eat as a result of small insect parts irritating the GI tract. If these symptoms persist for more than a few days, a physician should be consulted.

New CDC Data on Breastfeeding Rates

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The CDC releases an annual report on breastfeeding rates in the U.S.  The most recent report shows that 75% of new moms now start breastfeeding at birth.  That’s a welcome increase.  Be sure to read the whole thing to see recommendations of what can be done to increase breastfeeding rates.  Also, there is individual state data. And some excerpts:

The most recent CDC data show that 3 out of every 4 new mothers in the U.S. now starts out breastfeeding. The U.S. has now met the Healthy People 2010 national objective for breastfeeding initiation. However, rates of breastfeeding at 6 and 12 months as well as rates of exclusive breastfeeding at 3 and 6 months remain stagnant and low.

More babies in the U.S. are now born at Baby-Friendly™ facilities than ever before. However, these births still represent less than 4% of all U.S. births. Further, the CDC mPINC survey of all birth facilities in the U.S. shows that the average score for facilities nationwide is only 65 out of 100, and only 2 states’ facilities scored 80 or more points…

High breastfeeding initiation rates show that most mothers in the U.S. want to breastfeed and are trying to do so. However, even from the very start, mothers may not be getting the breastfeeding support they need.  Low breastfeeding rates at 3, 6, and 12 months illustrate that mothers continue to face multiple barriers to breastfeeding.

Across the U.S., the average level of support that birth facilities provide to mothers and babies as they get started with breastfeeding is inadequate, and hospital practices and policies that interfere with breastfeeding remain common. In the U.S., too few hospitals participate in the global program to recognize best practices in supporting breastfeeding mothers and babies, known as the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative.

Breastfeeding Cuts Moms Risk of Diabetes

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New research from the University of Pittsburgh is showing that breastfeeding for at least a month cuts a mom’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.  Here’s the link to the study in the American Journal of Medicine.  And now a blurb from a Reuters article:

Previous research demonstrated health benefits to moms who breastfed as long as six months or a year. The Pennsylvania results suggest that even a month of breastfeeding can have positive, lasting effects.

“What we found that was somewhat surprising was the pretty dramatic benefits for moms who breastfed as short as a month after the birth of their child,” the lead author, Dr. Eleanor Schwarz of the University of Pittsburgh, told Reuters Health.

In type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease, either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin that the body needs to turn food into energy. An estimated 10 percent of American women have it.

Breastfeeding and Celebrities

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I wrote a story that is in this month’s issue of the New York Observer Playground.  The topic… breastfeeding and celebrities.  I interviewed Gossip Girl star Kelly Rutherford for the piece.  Also, a sidebar to the article features some cool breastfeeding supplies including tops, pumps and bras.  See page 82.

Observer Playground – Fall 2010