Wednesday, January 5, 2011

WIC -- The Women, Infants, and Children Program

WIC is a federal government program that is run by the individual states. Its rationale is that the population as a whole will be healthier if adequate nutrition is provided for children at the beginning of their lives. Food is also given to childbearing women: during pregnancy, in order to help them recover from childbirth, and for breastfeeding. WIC is well-known for providing vouchers for free food, but the program also involves some medical screening, growth measurements, breastfeeding support, and nutrition education. This program is for families with median to lower in-comes, based on family size.

As a mother of twins, it is easier to qualify. Unborn babies are counted as members of the household, without any proof required. So ideally, you should contact them when you first find out you are pregnant with twins.

Children five and under can be enrolled in the program. You need to bring your children in with you for most ap-pointments, which will be at least every six months.

There are six WIC clinics in Salt Lake County. To apply, go online for locations, phone numbers, and additional information. Call to set up an ap-pointment and they will tell you what you need to bring.

As mentioned, this is a government program. You need to be willing to provide quite a bit of information, including income, IDs and proof of address, and sometimes wait quite a while in the waiting room.

Bring your husband and/or other close support person who might do shopping for you. At the beginning of the appoint-ment, they can also be authorized to use the vouchers.

Plus, you will want help to manage your babies and undress and dress them for the medical portion of the process. If you have other children with you, it is likely a necessity.

Food vouchers can be redeemed at most local grocery stores for the specific food categories listed. A pamphlet is provided to itemize exactly which items and brands can be purchased.
Some stores label WIC foods on the shelf, but take these with a grain of salt. Products get moved on shelves, so sometimes the WIC label is incorrect. That’s a problem when you get to the checkout stand.

Typical foods given are milk, whole grains in the form of cereal and bread, tortillas or brown rice; fruit, vegetables, eggs, beans, juice, and a little peanut butter. The high nu-trient, healthy foods provided are intended to supplement to your diet.

Do not expect to receive all the food you normally eat! But this will greatly help with your budget, especially with all those medical bills!

Some WIC foods are for specialized groups. Infants may get formula; babies 6-12 months old also get pow-dered baby cereal and jarred baby food fruits and vegetables.

It is better for your babies and cheaper to the program for you to breastfeed your babies. Last year, Utah WIC added incentives for exclusively breastfeeding families. The biggest one is almost triple the amount of jarred baby food once your infants turn 6 months old. They also received jarred pureed meats.

Your babies will be considered “exclusively breastfed” if you do not request any formula from the program, even if you decide to supplement with formula yourselves. From my point of view, the jarred foods provide so much convenience later on that it is worthwhile paying for formula yourself, if you are only supplementing.

There is likely a breastfeeding room at the clinic in case you need to feed them while you’re there. Ask.

Breastfeeding moms are the only ones to get canned fish (tuna or salmon), and moms breastfeeding twins get half-again more food allotment. This is feast or famine, however. One month you get double the typi-cal amount of food, and the next month only the nor-mal allotment.

I wished I had noticed this! The first month of our twins’ lives was a short month, February, and it was so hard to get out. We thought the food amount was so generous, we would have more than enough if we didn’t stress ourselves and just waited to use next month’s coupons. But it turned out to be a lot less food.

Vouchers for breastfeeding mothers continue up to one year, but it ends then even if you continue to breastfeed your infants. Your children will then start to get typical WIC foods. However, one-year-olds get whole milk. Milk for all others is your choice of 2%, 1%, or skim.
Make sure you are getting a special package for twins. You could request items such as extra cheese if you are con-cerned about losing weight while breastfeeding, or maybe low-sodium items. You need a “prescription” for these, which can be taken to a doctor to be signed at an appointment for you or the babies.

At the highest point of benefits (when my twins were about 9 months old and included an older child), one month’s food vouchers were worth almost $300. That really helps out the family budget! At other times, a month’s vouchers were worth about $80.

Other items may be provided through WIC. These include breast pumps, with electric ones loaned to working moms, and daily multivitamins. Your child may get a free book from the library next door if you visit the South Main location. In-formation on other programs to help low-income families is available. You can also get a calendar with recipes using WIC foods -- it is pretty cool.

Another benefit of being enrolled in WIC is that it may streamline and increase eligibility if you apply to other programs which are determined by income.

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