I haven’t breastfed a baby (or anyone else, for that matter) since 2007, so I thought all my breastfeeding posts were over. So did the rest of you, probably. Suckahs! (Ha, no pun intended. Oh, I hate myself for going there. But not enough to erase it because someone was bound to say something in the comments, anyway.)
So a friend of mine posted this link on the Facebook today. It’s an online petition to get the IRS to allow women to count expenses for breast pumps and breastfeeding supplies in their tax-sheltered health spending accounts. Apparently all kind of other stuff can count as a medical expense–e.g. pimple creams, denture adhesives, replacing your lawn with artificial turf if you have severe allergies, etc.–but breastfeeding was deemed not to have enough health benefits to count as health care. (Here’s a NYT story, if you want one.)
I am actually a big fan of breastfeeding…insofar as it’s not creepy to say something like that…and I’m not typically a fan of the IRS, but I’m afraid that after giving this a moment’s thought, I found myself coming down on the IRS’s side. Breast milk is good food, and there may be some truth to the claim that it will make your baby stronger, smarter and sexier than the other babies, but when you get right down to it, it’s just food. It’s not a medical intervention. Certainly not all foods are created equal, and some foods will optimize health and others are probably harmful, but do we really want the IRS to decide which foods we should be eating? I don’t. And not just because I had lunch at McDonald’s today.
MomsRising wants the IRS to “leave medicine to the experts.” Except they don’t, really–unless they’re arguing that health savings accounts should be done away with altogether, since every allowed expense is the result of the IRS not leaving medicine to the experts. But I don’t think that’s what they’re saying. What they’re saying is that breastfeeding mothers should be privileged over formula-feeding mothers, which isn’t fair because a) not all women can breastfeed and b) a woman’s choice to breastfeed or not is none of the government’s business.*
* I admit that I haven’t done thorough research on this topic because I don’t feel like sifting through the tax code this afternoon. If someone cares to inform me that formula is considered an allowable expense and breastfeeding is excluded, then I will take back what I just said and write a new post about how I want the government to subsidize the price of strawberries in January.
Some breastfeeding advocates would say that what matters is encouraging mothers to breastfeed and removing obstacles to breastfeeding, and if privileging that behavior leads to more women breastfeeding, then yay. I wouldn’t endorse that approach, but whatever. I also don’t believe that the major obstacle to breastfeeding is cost. The major obstacle to breastfeeding is that it’s damned inconvenient if a woman wants or needs to go back to work. Even if her employer provides her with time and space to pump–and many employers just don’t, which is a separate issue–it’s still inconvenient, and some women just don’t want that kind of hassle, not to mention the stress that often accompanies hassle. So even if it were fair to allow breastfeeding expenses but not formula expenses, I don’t think it would do much good, as far as increasing the numbers of the breastfeeding troops. And in the meantime, the government is out, like, forty-two cents per breastfeeding household in revenue! It adds up, people! **
** I didn’t actually do the math. If someone else would like to do the math, I will gladly edit that sentence to make it truthful instead of just silly.
So, yeah, that’s my breastfeeding blog. I hope you enjoyed it because you may never read another one from me. I will wrap things up with a semi-pertinent-but-not-really anecdote. A friend once told me that she knew she was done having kids when she could see other women nursing and not be jealous. That friend was obviously another fan of breastfeeding, in the non-creepy sense. What’s the point? I don’t know. I was just thinking of it because I really don’t miss breastfeeding at all. I thought I would–I breastfed my last child for twenty-nine months–but once I was done, I was really done. I don’t miss the babies. I kind of miss the baby shoes. But that’s neither here nor there. I lost my breast pump in the fire, but the attachments and bottles that went with the breast pump are still in the garage. I’m only keeping them because they’re not recyclable, but it just seems wrong to throw them away. Even though no one can use them. (Especially not me.) This is why my garage is in the state that it’s in. Maybe the government should do something about that.