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ADVANCE Perspective: Nurses

Michelle Obama & Breastfeeding

Published February 18, 2011 2:21 PM by Rich Krisher
I saw a news item last week about the Internal Revenue Service ruling breast pumps as a tax-deductible medical expense. The catch is most new moms will need to have a pretax medical spending account established to take advantage of the deduction. Otherwise, the expense is deductible only if the family unit's medical expenses exceed 7.5 percent of taxable income.

Makes sense, I thought. As an editor at ADVANCE, I work with mostly women, and have watched many of them successfully balance work and family, especially those with very young children. I've admire their perseverance as they've made time every day to use a breast pump so their children had the opportunity to be breastfed. If a tax deduction can in a small way advance that cause, so be it.

But hold on. This tax policy change was linked to a statement by Michelle Obama that she was going to focus on early intervention with her Let's Move campaign, including promotion of breastfeeding. It's a testament to the power of the nation's first lady to power discussion, because no sooner had Justin Bieber proclaimed the U.S. healthcare system "evil" (he's from Canada) than he was moved off the public stage by a wave of pundits scorching and praising the plan.

Look, my politics can easily be described as right-of-center, but I don't get the sound and fury. Today's working moms are entitled to a short 12 weeks after they give birth (if they can afford the time off without pay), then they must return to work. I worked closely with one mom who was back at work days after she gave birth, for financial reasons. Breastfeeding should be a choice, but I don't think it was one she was able to make.

Meanwhile, the predictable suspects are lined up for and against the first lady's effort, although as noted on a New York Times health blog, the reaction has scrambled the usual partisan lines. U.S. Rep Michele Bachmann of Minnesota ripped the plan as more big government, but commenters on various forums have taken positions outside the ordinary.

Sometimes the best take is closest to home. I keep up with my friend Amy, an enthusiastic mom with whom I shared a cubicle wall in an earlier life, on Facebook. Her status post greeted me early this morning: "Criticizing M. Obama for promoting breastfeeding. Are you kidding me? So, it's OK for WIC to supply formula to those who need it, but not OK for the IRS to help pay for breast pumps so those who can and want to feed their babies for free? Someone has failed to do the math here."

Indeed.

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