More families eligible for WIC

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The Edgar County Health Department recently announced new income guidelines for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program means more Edgar County women are eligible for assistance to help their families maintain a healthy diet as the children grow.

“A lot of people are eligible, who don’t think they are eligible,” said Kelly Cusick, a dietician at the health department. “It’s definitely worth checking into. WIC covers people who fall into the middle income category.”

Jean McConkey, the health department’s director of nursing, agreed. She emphasized WIC is not a program just for women who are struggling in poverty. It is there to assure women and children have access to reliable health information and other resources that can help the family.

Women with children who are already receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) help to feed their families are automatically eligible for WIC and an extra $100 to $150 per month for the food budget. WIC and SNAP work together to make sure healthy food is going on the table for children.

The WIC nutrition program provides supplemental foods like milk, eggs, peanut butter, cheese, bread, fruits, vegetables and much more.

“They get vouchers for baby cereal and baby food,” said Cusick, adding for the first year of a child’s life WIC helps with the purchase of whole milk because the higher fat content of whole milk is needed for brain development. Lower fat milk, like 2 percent, is suitable after age two.

As a WIC partner, the health department provides breastfeeding support to nursing mothers and formula for infants where needed.

Emily Baumann is a WIC peer counselor at the health department and her role is educator, supporter and friend to women who want to breastfeed.

“Emily is a role model,” said McConkey. “She is the mom of several kids and shows others that breast feeding is possible.”

One of the obstacles Cusick and Baumann must overcome to encourage breastfeeding is economic status. Cusick said generally women who have limited financial resources are less likely to consider breastfeeding but middle-income women, who are often better educated, are more open to the idea.

“It’s not part of their culture to breastfeed,” said Baumann.

She added there are a couple of reasons why women don’t want to breastfeed. There is an unnecessary fear they aren’t capable of making enough milk, and they cannot continue breastfeeding after returning to work because job schedules don’t accommodate breastfeeding.

Baumann, Cusick and McConkey still emphasize to their clients that breastfeeding is the best option for a child.

“When a baby comes out it is a blank slate,” said Baumann. “In that first hour, the colostrum is the first vaccination. It crowds out viruses and creates a healthy biome in the baby’s stomach.”

Continuing to breastfeed after the mother introduces the colostrum supports and strengthens that biome and helps keep the baby healthy.

“It only takes 5 cc of formula to destroy that whole biome,” said McConkey.

According to Cusick, the local WIC program is successful at getting young women to initiate breastfeeding but often the women find it is difficult to maintain if they don’t have a support network endorsing breastfeeding.

“If a grandma or mom says to use formula, that can undo everything,” Cusick said.

Baumann said using formula is not easier than breastfeeding because a mothers is still dealing with a newborn that needs fed every two hours. Among the advantages of breastfeeding are the breast is always ready when the child wants to nurse, the temperature is right and no sterilization is needed.

McConkey added breastfeeding teaches a child to stop eating when full because suckling the breast is harder work than taking everything in a bottle and overeating as a result.

The women referred to long-range studies indicating individuals who were breastfed have lower incidences of obesity along with stronger immune systems, less asthma and less adult cancer.

The health department’s goal through WIC is to provide women with education, referrals and assistance that allows pregnant moms, infants, children up to age five and postpartum mothers to have the healthiest possible outcomes.

The department also offers immunizations, and a child safety seat program offering education and assistance with child safety seat installation. Replacement seats are on site, free to those in need.

Health department employees are eager to find more families that are now eligible to get the assistance resulting in healthier children.

“A woman doesn’t have to have WIC status for breastfeeding counseling,” said McConkey. “We don’t turn anybody away that needs breastfeeding help.”