National WIC Association

In Defense of WIC: The WIC Program Promotes the Benefits of Breastfeeding

February 22, 2017

You may encounter the following criticism of WIC: The WIC program overstates the benefits of breastfeeding. Here are some suggestions for how to respond if and when you encounter this claim:

Sample Talking Points:

  • The benefits of breastfeeding are well documented in scientific literature.
  • Research shows that if 90% of families breastfed exclusively for 6 months, then nearly 1,000 infant deaths could be prevented per year.1
  • WIC services improve breastfeeding rates among diverse populations of low-income women.2
  • Participation in the WIC breastfeeding peer counseling program is associated with an increased rate of breastfeeding initiation.3
  • Women who attend WIC breastfeeding support groups are twice as likely to plan to breastfeed as those who do not.4
  • Breastfeeding moms can participate in the WIC program longer and receive a special enhanced food package to support their unique nutritional needs.
  • WIC breastfeeding initiation rates have risen from 42% in 1998 to 70% in 2014.5
  • Maternal WIC participation has been shown to improve breastfeeding rates.6
  • Women who choose to breastfeed are less likely to get certain types of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and Type II diabetes.
  • An infant who is breastfed is less likely to have food allergies, has fewer ear infections, and is sick less often.
  • Breastfeeding saves money because breastfed infants usually need fewer medical sick care visits, hospitalizations, and prescriptions.

Peer-Reviewed Literature to Corroborate these Points:

1 Breastfeeding. Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

2 Forrestal S, Briefel R, Mabli J (2015) WIC Breastfeeding Policy Inventory. Prepared by Mathmatica Policy Research under Contract No.AG-3198-B-10-0015. Alexandria, VA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. P. 41.

3 Gross S, Resnick A, Cross-Barnet C, Nanda P, Augustyn M, Paige D. (2009). The differential impact of WIC Peer Counseling programs on breastfeeding initiation across the state of Maryland. Journal of Human Lactation, Volume 26, Issue 4. Pages 435–43; Yun, S., et al. (2010). Evaluation of the Missouri WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) Breastfeeding Peer Counselling Programme. Public Health Nutrition Volume 13, Issue 2. Pages 229–37.

4 Mickens AD, Modeste N, Montgomery S, Taylor N (2009) Peer support and breastfeeding intentions among black WIC participants. Journal of Human Lactation Vol.25 Issue.2.

5 Thorn B, Tadler C, Huret N, Trippe C, Ayo E, Mendelson M, Patlan K. L, Schwartz G, & Tran V. (2015). WIC Participant and Program Characteristics 2014. Prepared by Insight Policy Research under Contract No. AG‐3198‐C‐ 11‐0010. Alexandria, VA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service.

6 Metallinos-Katsaras E, Brown L, Cochamiro R (2013) Maternal WIC Participation Improves Breastfeeding Rates: A Statewide Analysis of WIC Participants FASEB Journal Vol.27 No.1 Supplement 122.7.

WIC Testimonial Refuting this Claim:

"I was in high school when I became pregnant. I knew I wanted to breastfeed my baby, but stressed that I would not be able to as after the baby was born I was returning to school. WIC helped by encouraging me to breastfeed my baby. WIC provided me an electric pump, and along with Public Health worked with my school to grant me times to go to the nurse’s office to pump. I am now a senior in high school. My senior project is on breastfeeding. I am working with WIC and Public Health to complete this project. I believe that it was with WIC’s and Public Health’s encouragement that I was able to breastfeed my baby, finish my schooling, as well as encourage other girls who find themselves in a similar situation, to breastfeed their babies."– WIC Participant, Wyoming