This week I have been on my dietetic internship rotation with WIC, the “Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children”. I have been familiar with the program for a while, but had never been inside a WIC clinic or really spoken with a WIC recipient before, so I have learned quite a bit about how it works in just the 3 days I’ve been there so far.
As you may know, WIC provides its participants with free monthly food vouchers that can be used at grocery stores (such as Walmart or Kroger) to receive specific food items. In that way, WIC is not like SNAP (Food Stamps). SNAP benefits can be used on any food items, including junk food like chips, soda, cookies, ice cream, and candy bars. WIC, instead, provides participants with the basic, healthy foods that can assure families they are getting the nutrition they need.
Not every WIC participant receives the same package — it can all vary based on whether an infant is breastfeed exclusively, partially, or is formula fed. When a child reaches 6 months, age 1, and age 2, the food packages also change. Examples of the foods on the various vouchers include:
- Canned fish (tuna, salmon)
- Peanut butter
- Beans (dried or canned)
- Milk (whole, 2% or less, depending on age of participant, as well as soy milk/lactaid in some cases)
- Infant formula
- Infant cereal, fruits, vegetables, meats
- Fresh produce
- Juices (apple, grape, grapefruit, tomato, vegetable, orange, pineapple)
- Whole grain breads
- Cereals (certain brands, such as Cheerios, Wheaties, Life, Corn Chex, Special K, and Honey Bunches of Oats)
WIC is far more than a program that provides food vouchers to women, infants, and children. Although that is a large part of what WIC does, it also has an incredible amount of valuable resources that families can utilize.
WIC clients can receive personalized nutrition education and counseling from RDs and WIC nutritionists. International Board Certified Lactation Consultants are there to provide information about breastfeeding, hold breastfeeding classes, offer to weigh your baby pre/post nursing to find out exactly how much breastmilk the baby is receiving in a feeding, rent out breastpumps, and provide breastfeeding support and education. Children can be immunized at the WIC center in Morgantown and hemoglobin levels can be checked. The child’s height/length, weight, and BMI can also be measured over time in order to track the child’s development and growth. At WIC, families can also receive referrals for other programs like Birth to Three and the WV Tobacco Quitline, and other medical professionals, such as local dentists who will see young children.
To be eligible to be a WIC participant, several criteria must be met. Pregnant women, women who are breastfeeding an infant under 1 year of age, postpartum women to the 6th month after delivery (ie: moms who are formula feeding their 5.5 month old), and children from 0-5 years of age can qualify for WIC. The participants must also exhibit nutritional risk, such as low iron levels or inadequate dietary intake. Additionally, certain income guidelines must be followed. A single mother of 2 children who makes less than $35,317 a year could qualify for WIC benefits. A woman, pregnant with her first child, who makes less than $20,665 a year could also qualify. Or, a family of 6 (mom, dad, and 4 kids) who makes less than $57,295 could also qualify. Full income guidelines, which are reviewed for updates each year can be found here.
I think WIC is a pretty great resource that provides nutrition and health education to a population that needs it. By providing nutrition education and counseling, breastfeeding support and education, and other health screenings, it helps kids get off to a healthy start. And I think that’s something we can all agree is a great thing!