In 2022, WIC providers navigated unprecedented and historic shortages of infant formula stemming from the closure of one manufacturing plant by safety inspectors. The fragility of the infant formula manufacturing sector raised serious questions about how the United States approaches infant feeding. Although medical guidance has consistently encouraged exclusive breastfeeding for the six months and the Dietary Guidelines embraced this approach in their first life-stages editions in 2020, the United States remains a global outlier in not having implemented the World Health Organization’s 1981 Code on Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. For more than a decade, NWA has endorsed implementation of the WHO Code and worked to support the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative to improve breastfeeding outcomes.
Responding to the aftermath of the infant formula shortages also requires a more thorough examination of infant formula, including corporate practices that unduly influence individual feeding decisions. WIC must also reflect on the sole-source contracting model that exacerbated challenges for more than one million WIC parents. Although sole-source contracting has returned investment and contributed to the bipartisan consensus that WIC should be funded at a level to serve all eligible individuals, WIC families will soon face reduced choice as infant formula waivers expire through June 2023.