Panhandle Health District
8500 N. Atlas Road Hayden, Idaho 83835
March 25, 2009
WIC Provides a Healthy Start
Margaret was determined not to breast feed her baby, and she let her friends and family know.
“Everybody asked me if I was going to breastfeed and I said, ‘No way,’” Margaret wrote in a letter to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program at the Panhandle Health District (PHD). “That was until the nutrition lady sat down with me and told me how healthy it was for the both of us and (how) it would help take some pregnant pounds off at the same time.
“So after I tried it, I loved every minute of it. WIC has helped me keep my family healthy and strong.”
PHD respects the privacy of its clients, so Margaret isn’t the letter-writer’s real name. But her message could have come from many mothers in PHD’s WIC program.
“We’re here to help people raise healthy families,” says Shelly Amos, PHD’s WIC coordinator. “We want them to be here and we want to make a difference in their lives.”
WIC is a federally-funded program designed to improve the health of eligible women, infants and children through proper nutrition. The program provides nutrition counseling and referrals to many community programs.
WIC issues free vouchers for milk, cheese, eggs, formula, cereal and other healthy foods that are important during pregnancy and early childhood for normal growth and development. These food vouchers can be redeemed at any Idaho grocery store. In 2008, nearly $3 million was given to women, infants and children in the five northern counties. Federal funding covers all WIC’s costs. Clients pay nothing.
Margaret started in WIC when she was pregnant with her first child. Her nutritional needs were determined and a finger-stick blood test was done to check for iron. Her diet was evaluated and she was weighed and measured. She shared her health history.
Margaret learned through WIC what foods were good for her to eat during pregnancy and how to manage her weight gain. WIC provided her with free vouchers for milk, cheese, iron-fortified hot and cold cereals, juice, eggs, dried beans/peas and peanut butter.
She learned about exercising, breastfeeding and the need for three healthy meals every day. Her WIC visits provided her an opportunity to talk about her pregnancy and share her concerns.
Pregnant women and mothers ask all sorts of questions during nutrition counseling sessions. They learn how many more calories they burn each day while they’re breastfeeding and why their babies sometimes eat more than they do other times. Amos says counselors have detected post-partum depression and even suicidal tendencies early enough to find women the help they need.
“We spend time with them,” she says. “Some clients are asking for additional nutrition information in between their WIC appointments.”
After Margaret gave birth to her son, WIC added carrots and tuna to her food vouchers. Her son’s iron was checked and counselors offered Margaret breastfeeding support. Margaret stayed with the program through her second child.
Women are eligible for WIC if they’re pregnant, breastfeeding for up to 12 months after delivery or have had a baby in the last six months. Children are eligible from birth to age 5.
They also must meet income eligibility guidelines:
The educational and social support WIC provides is hard for families to give up.
“One woman was tearful on her last visit. We’d watched her children grow up,” Amos says. “We were there for every milepost. We were like part of the family.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture funds the entire WIC program. During tough economic times, WIC is one program that’s encouraged to grow. Anyone who is eligible is welcome to participate, Amos says.
Amos is a registered and licensed dietitian. She manages the WIC program and makes sure she takes time to see clients.
“I love seeing people. It brings me back to why I’m here,” she says. “Everyone in our program wants to make life better for the people who come to us. We want them to know we’re here for them.”
For a WIC application, visit www.phd1.idaho.gov or call 415-5130.