Persuading moms to breastfeed: Study examines effects of government nutrition program on choice to use infant formula

February 21, 2013

One of the federal government's goals in tweaking the content of its food packages for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program was to encourage more new mothers to breastfeed. The changes, which took effect in 2009, produced mixed results, however.

For many years, WIC has provided low-income new mothers with monthly checks or vouchers to purchase healthy foods to supplement their diets and those of their infants. Mothers have also been offered supplies of infant formula.

WIC staffers, in consultation with the moms, assign food allotments to mothers based on their nutritional needs and whether they are breastfeeding or intend to breastfeed. Under the old guidelines, food allotments for women who did not breastfeed had the highest market value, because they included a full supply of infant formula.

To make breastfeeding more attractive, WIC offered more food for moms who breastfeed fully and lowered the amount of infant formula given to women who partially breastfeed. Vouchers for those monthly food allotments were offered for a year. WIC continued to offer a six-month allotment, with a full supply of infant formula and less food, to mothers who did not breastfeed.

An analysis published in the found that while the percentage of women taking advantage of the full breastfeeding allotment increased after the changes, the percentage given the full formula package also increased. Only the allotment for partially had fewer takers.

Perhaps more important, the percent of who said they tried breastfeeding stayed the same, at about 65 percent.

"There had been some hope that breastfeeding initiation would increase after the policy change," said Parke E. Wilde, corresponding author and an associate professor at the Friedman School. "While this did not happen, the good news is there was no decrease in breastfeeding initiation, and more mothers did, at least, adopt the full breastfeeding package."

Wilde points out that some states and localities had better breastfeeding outcomes than others. Recent research out of California has found stronger increases in breastfeeding in agencies that vigorously reached out to WIC participants before they gave birth. It is during pregnancy, Wilde and his colleagues found, that three-quarters of the women decided how they wanted to feed their babies, suggesting that more outreach before delivery may be beneficial.

Explore further: Researchers confirm WIC breastfeeding rate data

More information: This article first appeared in the Winter 2013 issue of Tufts Nutrition magazine.

Related Stories

Researchers confirm WIC breastfeeding rate data

February 22, 2012
While medical professionals have long known breastfeeding positively impacts infant and maternal health, few effective tools are available to measure breastfeeding practices nationally. According to a new study, one preexisting ...

Warning to breastfeeding mothers

April 15, 2011
While breastfeeding babies has numerous health advantages to both mother and child, mothers who breastfeed may find that other people look down on them and do not want to work with them. A recent study released by Personality ...

Breastfeeding benefits mothers with reduced blood pressure risk

November 2, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- While the benefits of breastfeeding for the baby are well established and some studies have shown that mothers who breastfeed have lower risks of diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease, a new study ...

Recommended for you

Study shows probiotics can prevent sepsis in infants

August 17, 2017
A research team at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health has determined that a special mixture of good bacteria in the body reduced the incidence of sepsis in infants in India by 40 percent at ...

Children who sleep an hour less at higher risk of type 2 diabetes, says study

August 15, 2017
A study has found that children who slept on average one hour less a night had higher risk factors for type 2 diabetes, including higher levels of blood glucose and insulin resistance.

Low blood sugars in newborns linked to later difficulties

August 8, 2017
A newborn condition affecting one in six babies has been linked to impairment in some high-level brain functions that shows up by age 4.5 years.

Can breast milk feed a love of vegetables?

August 4, 2017
(HealthDay)—Want your preschooler to eat veggies without a fuss? Try eating veggies while you're breast-feeding.

Small drop in measles vaccinations would have outsized effect, study estimates

July 24, 2017
Small reductions in childhood measles vaccinations in the United States would produce disproportionately large increases in the number of measles cases and in related public health costs, according to a new study by researchers ...

At the cellular level, a child's loss of a father is associated with increased stress

July 18, 2017
The absence of a father—due to incarceration, death, separation or divorce—has adverse physical and behavioral consequences for a growing child. But little is known about the biological processes that underlie this link ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.