The ruling, long sought by advocates, means that women will be able to use money set aside in pretax spending accounts to buy the pumps and related equipment, which can cost several hundred dollars. For women without flexible spending accounts, the cost of pumps will be tax deductible if their total medical costs exceed 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income.
Previously, the IRS considered breast pumps to be feeding equipment, not medical devices. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics argued that breastfeeding has many medical benefits for both mother and baby. Advocates hope that making breast pumps more affordable will enable more women to breastfeed longer.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that women breastfeed their babies for at least a year.
"Unfortunately, due to financial restraints and work demands, not all women are afforded the opportunity to nurse their children, despite the proven health benefits," the academy said in a 2009 letter to IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman that was also signed by nine other medical groups. "In order to continue to breastfeed successfully, millions of mothers working outside the house require a breast pump."
Last year, 45 members of Congress wrote the IRS to protest its classification of breast pumps. On Thursday, several issued a statement praising the new ruling. They were Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
"Today's decision is a huge victory for nursing mothers everywhere. Modern medicine has documented numerous health benefits linked to breastfeeding, including a reduced risk of illness in infants and a reduced risk of cancer in mothers," the lawmakers said in a statement. "And because breastfeeding is so effective in preventing disease, it also happens to save billions in health care costs."