The Women, Infants and Children program (WIC) has been helping low-income pregnant women, new mothers and young children across the country to eat well, learn about nutrition and stay healthy for the past 40 years.
The federally funded program provides food vouchers, nutrition education and breastfeeding support to more than 1.9 million low-income mothers in the U.S. each month. Resources are also available for children up to age 5 who are found to be at nutritional risk. In Humboldt County, 3,689 mothers, infants and children were served by the WIC program in April 2014.
“We know that the health and well-being of mothers and infants is a key marker of the health of the community,” said Susan Buckley, Public Health director for the Department of Health and Human Services, which operates WIC offices locally.
“In nearly four decades of WIC services in Humboldt County, thousands of families have been helped to provide a healthy start for their newborns,” Buckley said. Income-eligible fathers, grandparents and guardians taking care of children under the age of 5 may also apply for the WIC program.
The country’s first WIC clinic began in January 1974 in Kentucky, and was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. WIC started in Humboldt County two years later with one office in Eureka. The program has since expanded to sites in Garberville, Fortuna, McKinleyville and Crescent City. WIC services are also available in Humboldt County through United Indian Health Services.
A major goal of WIC is to improve the nutritional status of infants, and WIC mothers are encouraged to breastfeed their infants, unless it’s not medically advised, said Mary Wheeler, a DHHS program services coordinator who oversees the WIC program.
Locally, WIC’s Breastfeeding Peer Counseling Program matches nursing mothers with peer counselors who provide support and education. Several lactation consultants are also available.
“The emphasis is to provide breastfeeding support to first-time moms who want to breastfeed,” Wheeler said. “We also support moms who are breastfeeding for the first time although they may have other children.”
According to WIC data, in April 2014, the percentage of infants who were being exclusively breastfed in the local WIC program was 35.5 percent, compared to the state average of 21.2 percent.
The CDPH’s County Health Status Profiles 2014 report states that Humboldt County has a breastfeeding initiation rate of 94.1 percent, well exceeding the national objective of 81.9 percent set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People 10-year plan to improve the health of all Americans.
“At WIC, we have the opportunity to have a positive effect on someone’s health very early on,” Wheeler said. “It’s great to be able to offer families with young children help when they really need it.”
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