WASHINGTON Breast pumps and other lactation supplies are now tax deductible as medical expenses, the Internal Revenue Service said on Thursday, reversing a long-held position.
The new ruling means that families can use pre-tax funds from their flexible spending accounts and health savings accounts for these supplies. Breast pumps typically cost more than $200 and, along with supplies, can run as high as $1,000 in the first year of a baby's life.
Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics asked the IRS to allow this deduction, but the agency initially refused.
"The IRS didn't really figure this would be a medical need versus a social or cosmetic need," Dr. Richard Schanler, head of the physician group's breast-feeding committee that has been lobbying for years for the deduction.
Health experts around the world have agreed that breast milk is the best choice for babies when possible given its ability to help ward off infection and prevent chronic diseases.
Pumps are used by mothers whose premature newborns are too small to suckle but more often by women who are returning to work but still want to provide breast milk for their children.
The IRS, in a statement, said the agency changed course after concluding breast pumps were equivalent to obstetric care and affected a woman's body. The rule takes effect for 2010 tax filings, due April 18.
Medical expenses are not deductible until they exceed 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income. Since most mothers incur this expense in the same year that they are also piling up expenses involved in pregnancy and childbirth, their total healthcare spending could put them over the top for the deduction.
While the move may not significantly boost pump sales, it could encourage some women who are reluctant to spend hundreds of dollars on an electric breast pump and related supplies.
Pump makers include Avent, part of Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV, and Energizer Holdings Inc's Playtex as well as Medela, Ameda and Evenflo Co Inc.
Being able to deduct hundreds of dollars in pumps and supplies could benefit those deciding whether to get a pump and continue with breast milk or turning to baby formula, Schanler, a neonatologist at Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, told Reuters.
"It will be a help," he said. "It's also acknowledging the importance of breast milk in helping our children."
(Reporting by Linda Stern and Susan Heavey; Editing by Vicki Allen; editing by Carol Bishopric)