Voices of Hunger: How WIC Supported My Decision to Breastfeed
By Amanda Bornfree
Even before my first visit to a WIC office, I knew that I wanted to breastfeed my baby. I had only read a little on the importance of breastfeeding, but it was enough for me to realize that I wanted the best for my little one. Breastfeeding offers a host of benefits for both mother and baby. A breastfed baby is less likely to catch pneumonia, develop asthma and allergies, experience diarrhea or constipation, become jaundiced, or die from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). A mother who breastfeeds is less likely to have postpartum depression and develop certain cancers, and is more likely to shed her “baby weight." I was in. Sign me up. I was going to breastfeed.
In the waiting room of the WIC office that I visited monthly for my vouchers while pregnant with my first child, there were various wall posters that promoted breastfeeding. It was encouraging to see them. There were posters in both English and Spanish, catering to the diverse demographics of my Chicago neighborhood. The posters displayed information regarding hunger cues from infants, charts that compared infant formula to breast milk, and also the standard FAQ in regard to breastfeeding.
When I spoke with WIC employees they made a point to share facts about the benefits of breastfeeding, and that made me excited about the great nutrients that my body was developing. I learned that if I chose to breastfeed, I could continue to receive vouchers for up to a year after the birth of my baby, if I continued to qualify for the program—if I decided to formula-feed, the maximum amount of time would be six months. If I chose to formula-feed my baby, my vouchers would also have fewer food items on them, in order to make up for the cost of formula. WIC vouchers supply a certain amount of formula for babies, but not enough to cover the total cost of all of the food an infant needs. Breast milk, on the other hand, is not only better for the baby, but free. Wow!
It was at a WIC office that I was first introduced to the role of a breastfeeding counselor. During one of my visits, a WIC employee told me that if I had any questions about breastfeeding, or any difficulty with breastfeeding, there were breastfeeding counselors that I could call for advice. My eyes widened as she explained the details of WIC's breastfeeding program: “Once you give birth, if you are breastfeeding, we have a form that you can give to your doctor to fill out to receive a free breast pump," she said. "You have to be covered by the state to qualify. Since you’re on Medicaid, you do qualify. This will make it much easier for you to return to work or look for a job and continue to breastfeed your baby.”
Once again, I knew that WIC had my back. I knew that they truly cared and had the resources to help mothers during this critical time.
When I think of how devastating it would be to lose the circle of protection around WIC, my heart sinks. I was fortunate enough to know a little about the benefits of breastfeeding prior to visiting my local WIC office, but plenty of women are introduced to these benefits at a WIC office. I had decided that I would breastfeed prior to visiting WIC, but plenty of women have come to that decision because of WIC.
Once my daughter was nine months old, I became a breastfeeding peer counselor myself, through AmeriCorps. I wanted to do for others what was done for me–I wanted to educate and promote the facts about breast milk, and support women on their breastfeeding journeys.
Amanda Bornfree is a consultant in the church relations department at Bread for the World.
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