We all know Mrs. Obama has made the nation’s nutrition her top priority, (read Julie’s analysis of the first year of the Let’s Move campaign here), but now she gives new meaning to the phrase cradle-to-grave. The newest step in the first lady’s health crusade is breastfeeding – how to encourage it and impose more government regulations to allow it.

It’s become well known that breastfeeding has significant health benefits for babies, and more and more women are choosing to nurse their children.  Nevertheless, the government never misses an opportunity to interfere.  Mrs Obama is promoting breastfeeding and is campaigning to – in the words of columnist Lynn Sweet in today’s Politics Daily –  “remove barriers to breastfeeding.”   

The thrust behind Mrs. Obama’s breastfeeding campaign is the belief that nursing helps reduce childhood obesity. Of course, this is one of those fuzzy-statistics that often goes unchallenged. It’s not clear that breastfeeding itself reduces childhood obesity; rather, it’s a form of self-selection. Women who choose to breastfeed are also women who most likely make healthy eating choices for their children as they grow older.  

While the First lady’s communications chief acknowledged that, “breastfeeding is a very personal choice for every woman,” Mrs. Obama clearly has a very public agenda in mind. She explained, “We want to get into child-care centers, day-care centers, and start talking,” adding that breastfeeding is lower among African-American mothers compared to other racial and ethnic groups.   

Of course, Mrs. Obama probably hasn’t given much thought to how existing government programs like The Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program that provides at-risk mothers and young children with baby formula, might actually decrease breastfeeding among certain populations (read what Hadley’s written here.)  

No surprise, it’s not just “talking,” as Michelle Obama put it so innocently. Sweet explains that the IRS is helping launch the breastfeeding crusade with new changes to the tax code:   Meanwhile, the Internal Revenue Service announced Thursday that the costs for “breast pumps and supplies that assist lactation are medical care” are now, under the IRS code eligible for tax breaks. That means that breastfeeding supplies could be treated as deductible medical expenses and/or be reimbursed under flexible spending plans.  

What’s more, President Obama has ordered federal agencies to provide nursing mothers with more time and private space for breastfeeding and is using the bully pulpit  to encourage private companies to do the same. Of course, the best protection for nursing women is a dynamic and flexible work environment that allows women and their employers the most room to negotiate.    Burdensome regulations requiring businesses to redesign interior space, allow for extra time off for nursing mothers, and generally intended to “protect” nursing mothers actually makes the cost of employing child-bearing-aged women more expensive.   

I’m a mother of two, and I nursed both my children, but we don’t need government making breastfeeding one of its priorities.  In the end, if we allow market forces – rather than the First Lady and opaque government regulations – to determine personal decisions and employment practices, all women will come out ahead.