Photo Credit: Kristen Morales
Athens WIC nutritionist Sherry Peaks checks client Jadan Rucker’s iron level.
Every year, economists scare the crap out of us by floating a figure showing how expensive it is to have a child. By last count, kids cost roughly $14,000 a year, according to CNN. That's why, when I had my second child, I was determined to do things differently to show that, actually, kids don't need to be that expensive.
One of the key changes I wanted to make was breastfeeding. When our first child was born, money was tight, and I had to go back to work quickly. That was also before federal mandates required employers to provide a space for a woman to breastfeed, so the only option I saw at the time was switching to formula. Which is fine, until you have to go buy it.
It's really expensive.
Thus, the irony of families on a limited income going to the store to buy formula. If you're able to breastfeed, and you don't have to drop $150 or more a month on formula, it's better for your bank account.
Now, with baby No. 2, my mantra isn't solely about how great breastfeeding is for your baby. It's simple economics—if you're able to produce food for your baby, and you don't have to pay an arm and a leg for it, why wouldn't you? Turns out, I'm not the only person who has realized this. There's an entire federally funded program dedicated to helping moms and babies eat well and save money—it's called WIC, or Women, Infants and Children.
In our area, the WIC office is like the little engine that could. It runs on a slim staff that includes a nutritionist and several breastfeeding peer counselors, all of whom reach out to women with new babies to help support them. Their purpose is pretty straightforward, but I think in some circles the message has gotten skewed. This is a resource for women and families who might be considered "low income," but there's a pretty good chance you or someone you know qualifies. You can get WIC assistance if you make 185 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, or just under $45,000 a year for a family of four.
I sat down with Wendy Sanchez, a WIC peer counselor, to get the scoop on the program. She drives all over Clarke and Oconee counties to meet with moms—both new and soon-to-be—to help them start off on the right foot with their babies. The program's goal is to keep women and children healthy, mainly through good nutrition, but also making sure mom and kids are getting doctor check-ups and breastfeeding is going well.
WIC will also give new moms vouchers for certain foods that are good for breastfeeding moms, because producing a good supply of milk requires good nutrition—things like peanut butter, milk, bread and certain kinds of juices.
One of the tricky parts about being a peer counselor, though, is encouraging breastfeeding without being pushy. If a woman chooses to do it, great. If it doesn't work out, that's fine too—except, then there's the added cost of formula. Some women have the idea that WIC will provide vouchers for formula, but that's not entirely true—rather, vouchers are available to supplement. You shouldn't turn to WIC for assistance in purchasing all of your formula. What's provided through the program is simply meant to add to what a breastfeeding mom can't provide.
Sanchez also told me that a lot of moms assume they don't qualify for the WIC program, but even if they have health insurance, there's a chance they will. And even if you feel you have a solid support network once you bring the baby home, having a peer counselor stop by every so often can still be helpful. Often, Sanchez said, in-laws, mothers and grandmothers offer up lots of well-meaning advice that's so dated, or not even based in reality, that they're doing more harm than good.
For example, some cultures look down on breastfeeding, preferring to give babies bottles instead. Or, there's pressure on the mom to feed her baby more ("Are you feeding that baby enough?" is enough to trigger a weeklong guilt trip in most moms anyway), and so a new mom might turn to formula to supplement when she doesn't have to. And once you start moving to formula, your body's supply of milk begins to decrease—and that mother-in-law's admonishment becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The WIC peer counselor helps deflect all of this, plus provides support to get mama and baby off to a good start.
As a federally funded program, our local WIC office could be affected by the budget floated by the Trump Administration earlier this year. It calls for cutting $200 million overall, which might seem like a fraction of the program's overall $6.4 billion budget, but when you consider that the program helps moms and babies stay healthier while spending less on things like formula or unhealthy food, it seems like something you would want to help, not hinder.
If you like babies, you can get behind WIC.