Ronda Kaysen is expecting her second child in November and plans to breast-feed her newborn, just as she did her now 3-year-old son, who was weaned in May.
The 33-year-old Montclair, N.J., mother follows guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which urges mothers to breast-feed for at least six months and preferably one year to ensure the healthiest outcomes for their babies.
She has invested nearly $300 in a breast pump and will have to spend more on new hoses, bottles and plastic freezing bags so she can return to work and continue to give her new baby mother's milk.
But even though she and her husband set aside $2,000 a year in their flexible savings account to cover baby-related doctors' co-pays and prescription vitamins, her breast-feeding equipment is not tax deductible.
In this tight economy, "anything helps," said Kaysen, who is editor of the parenting blog, Turnpike Tikes..
"As it is, having a baby is incredibly hard financially," she said. "There are all sorts of things to buy, and if you have to go back to work and breast-feed because it's healthy for your baby, a breast pump is just another expense you can't recoup."
The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees with Kaysen and has been fighting a battle to get the Internal Revenue Service to allow parents to set aside part of their pre-tax earnings to pay for nursing supplies.
The IRS, under new rules for flexible spending accounts that will go into effect in January, denied that request and has ruled that breast-feeding does not have enough health benefits to qualify as a medical expense. Milk, they say, is just a healthy food.
"Human breast milk is the best first food for babies," said AAP's President-elect Dr. Robert W. Block. "The nutrition in breast milk is important in its ability to stave off infection when they are in the first months of life and don't have the recuperative powers. We are critically in favor of anything that allows moms to breast-feed."
"Breast pumps cost money, and if we can help a little bit and allow [mothers] to pay for it with a flex card and give them a little break, especially for low-income moms who are struggling, they might continue breast-feeding."
Mothers pump breast milk either to resume their careers, engage fathers in feeding their children or just get a break from mid-night feeding. But it is also critical when babies are born prematurely and a mother needs to keep her milk supply for the when child is healthy enough to nurse.
Unlike a stroller, which can be resold, breast pumps should not be shared.
"You could say you don't need a bouncy seat and trade up with friends, or you don't need a swing," said Kaysen. "Half the things you can get by without. But if you are working and you believe that nursing is critical to the baby's health, you do need help."
If a woman has twins with twice the demand for nutrition, the cost for a premium quality pump and supplies could exceed $1,000 annually.
Breast pumps can be plugged in to the wall and allow mothers to extract their milk, which can be chilled or frozen and bottle-fed to the baby later. Pumping takes about 15 minutes.
"I do think it sends a negative message, and, more importantly, with the economy tightening, particularly on folks just getting by, even a little bit helps," said AAP's Block.