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WIC (The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children): Policy versus practice regarding breastfeeding

      Abstract

      The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides foods, education, and referrals to participants who are considered to be at nutritional risk. The outreach of the program is impressive, and nearly 9.17 million people participated in the program in 2010. WIC participation is associated with many positive outcomes, including improved birthweights and childhood dietary practices. Despite these benefits, WIC mothers experience lower breastfeeding rates when compared with demographically similar women who do not participate in the WIC program. According to WIC, “A breastfeeding mother and her infant shall be placed in the highest priority level.” Despite this statement and others that support breastfeeding, WIC allocates only 0.6% of its budget toward breastfeeding initiatives. Formula expenses accounted for 11.6% ($850 million) of WIC's 2009 expenses. The inconsistency between WIC's policies that encourage breastfeeding vs. practices that favor formula begs further examination. Research shows consistent success with peer counseling programs among WIC participants; however, little money is budgeted for these programs. Rebates included, WIC spends 25 times more on formula than on breastfeeding initiatives. The American Academy of Nursing Expert Panel on Breastfeeding is calling for a re-evaluation of how these taxpayer dollars are spent. Additionally, the American Academy of Nursing recommends a shift from formula bargaining to an investment in structured peer counseling programs. All WIC programs should offer peer counseling support services that encourage breastfeeding and meet the needs of the families they serve.

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