By Steven Lalich for Marin Department of Health and Human Services
July 20, 2022
August is National Breastfeeding Month, dedicated to advancing advocacy, protection, and breastfeeding promotion. This global campaign is celebrated in Marin County and worldwide to raise awareness about breastfeeding and its advantages.
The Marin County Department of Health and Human Services Public Health Division, along with the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), recognizes the benefits that breastfeeding can bring to both the health and wellbeing of babies by focusing on maternal health, good nutrition, poverty reduction, and food security.
“WIC is a nutritional and educational program that helps mothers and their children in high-risk populations adopt healthy dietary behaviors,” said Dr. Lisa Santora, deputy public health officer, Marin HHS. She added, “When we provide support to families adversely affected by low income and food insecurity, we can reduce the burden they’re under right now and create positive outcomes for mothers and their children in the future.”
WIC, a federally funded food and nutrition service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), provides breastfeeding support, nutrition education, nutritious foods, and healthcare referrals for incomeeligible women who are pregnant or postpartum, infants, and children up to age five. WIC serves 53 percent of all infants born in the United States. In Marin County, 494 women, 1,500 children, and 616 infants are enrolled in the program as of July 2022.
One appreciative mother said, “I have two kids that received WIC. One is eight, and the other will soon be five. I am grateful for the help I received from WIC over the years – the in-hospital breastfeeding help, the food assistance, and the human connections; it all was extremely helpful for my family and me. WIC has been more than a food assistance program, it has been a place where I have felt seen and heard, and that has meant a lot to me.”
Sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic, a formula recall, and the FDA’s decision to suspend production for health violations at one of the nation’s top formula-producing plants, mothers have had to adopt alternative strategies to feed their infants, including a more determined approach to breastfeeding.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusively breastfeeding infants for the first six months before introducing
nutritious complementary foods. The AAP reports that research has shown that breastfeeding is linked to decreased rates of lower respiratory tract infections, severe diarrhea, ear infections, obesity, and a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome. Breastfeeding can reduce the mother’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes,
and high blood pressure. However, obstacles often get in the way of breastfeeding.
While most mothers’ intentions to breastfeed are sincere, statistics show many abandon the practice. According to the CDC’s key breastfeeding indicators of infants born in 2018 (National Immunization Survey 2019-2020), nearly 84 percent of mothers begin breastfeeding in the hospital, only 56 percent are still nursing six months later, and just 35 percent at one year. So, what accounts for this decline?
Sometimes it’s due to a lack of education or workplace policies that don’t support paid leave or accommodate pumping. Equity gaps in access to resources create disparities for breastfeeding mothers who work low-paying jobs and are often forced to stop breastfeeding and switch to formula so they can return to work. Other times, women cannot breastfeed or stop for medical issues, personal preference, or practicality. Who can women turn to for support?
Gueidi Beltran, Marin HHS Public Health WIC program manager, said, “Several factors determine how long a baby is breastfed. Like issues with lactation and latching, sometimes it’s fears about an infant’s nutrition or weight, and sometimes it’s about a lack of hospital protocols. Whatever the case, the WIC program is here to help.”
Individuals enrolled in WIC can visit a WIC office where they receive great support, and information about their WIC food benefits and either attend a group class or receive one-on-one nutrit
ion education. WIC participants receive a California WIC card to shop for their WIC foods. The WIC card is authorized at stores that accept California WIC benefits. You can find a store by downloading the free WIC app on your smartphone or visiting myfamily.wic.ca.gov.
For more information regarding WIC, call (415) 473-6889 or email MarinCountyWIC@marincounty.org.