With COVID-19's continual effects across the country, South Carolina WIC providers are focused on serving the increasing number of newly eligible families. In the spring, South Carolina WIC Director Berry Kelly swiftly implemented remote services for WIC families with the support of his team and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) waiver authority granted through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
The South Carolina WIC team leveraged social media, their webpage, mail, and press to ensure WIC families were informed of changes to the program as a result of remote operations. Perhaps the biggest concern in transitioning to remote WIC service was ensuring new mothers received consistent and effective breastfeeding counseling. Even before the COVID-specific transition to remote services, Breastfeeding Peer Counselors and International Board-Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC) found ways to connect with new WIC moms through phone or video calls. Since November, South Carolina has seen an increase in breastfeeding rates, with an estimated total increase of almost 2%.
This pandemic has wedged physical distance between families and their support systems, posing significant challenges for new mothers who are navigating parenthood. Lin Cook, an IBCLC with the South Carolina WIC program, reported that new mothers appreciate remote support as they breastfeed. With Lin’s support, one new mom continued breastfeeding and even said that she felt Lin seeing her through the last few difficult months made her really feel like family.
Not only has the team been serving WIC families via phone or video, but they have continued to expand their outreach in the community while maintaining social distancing measures. In June, South Carolina WIC participated in multiple drive-through baby showers. Beaufort’s breastfeeding peer counselor, Christina Boughton, presented to families on the importance of breastfeeding while families stayed in their cars.
South Carolina WIC Director Berry Kelly highlighted his teams in the Pee Dee, Lowcountry, Midlands, and Upstate regions. Berry states that he has “seen our WIC staff do what it takes to serve our families during this unprecedented time. From making sure our families were connected to breastfeeding support to certifying an increasing number of newly eligible WIC families, our team has ensured that WIC has remained a steady, consistent nutritional and public health support for mothers, babies, and children.”
Families have expressed their sincere gratitude to South Carolina’s WIC providers for prioritizing the safety of their families by minimizing exposure to COVID-19 through remote service. However, providers continue to express concern that the USDA waivers enabling remote services are set to expire on September 30, 2020, which would require families to go back into the WIC clinic come October. To continue the delivery of safe WIC service, Congress must grant the USDA WIC waiver authority through at least September 2021. WIC providers, like the South Carolina team, have proved that remote service is safe and successful.
This August is National Breastfeeding Month, where we celebrate those who breastfeed or support a breastfeeding mother and child. Additionally, Native Breastfeeding Week is from August 9-15 and Black Breastfeeding Week from August 25-31. Join NWA this month in celebrating breastfeeding and help us raise awareness and support waiver policy through September 2021 to ensure all parents have access to COVID safe breastfeeding support! Call your member of Congress to advocate for the inclusion of WIC waiver extension in the next COVID relief package and share NWA’s letters signed by over 60 national organizations and over 350 local WIC providers. Click here to see how you can get more involved in National Breastfeeding Month.