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Journal Article

WIC and Breastfeeding Support Services: Does the Mix of Services Offered Vary with Race and Ethnicity?

By Evans K, Labbok M, Abrahams S


Objective: The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition services provides supplemental nutrition and counseling to more than 50% of families with young children in the United States. Given the program’s significant reach, as well as large differences in rates of breastfeeding among whites, African Americans, and Hispanics, we explored the associations among breastfeeding initiation, the availability of WIC-based breastfeeding support, and the racial/ethnic composition of WIC clients in North Carolina.

Methods: An electronic survey gathered data on ongoing breastfeeding support activities from local WIC directors in North Carolina. North Carolina Pregnancy and Nutrition Surveillance System data provided racial/ethnic composition and breastfeeding initiation rates. Linear and logistic regression models were used to examine county-level associations among (1) racial/ethnic composition of clients, (2) breastfeeding initiation, and (3) availability of the identified WIC breastfeeding support services.

Results: Responses were received from 50 of the state’s 100 counties and were generally representative of the state. Breastfeeding initiation by site was negatively associated with percentage of African American clients and positively associated with percentage of white or Hispanic clients (p<0.05). The availability and intensity of breastfeeding support services varied widely, with 50% offering clinic-based services, 46% offering home visits, 38% offering peer counseling, and 76% offering some other form of counseling. The WIC sites with larger Hispanic populations were more likely to be providing a broad base of services, including clinic-based services, peer counseling, and home visits (p<0.05); those with higher African American populations were significantly less likely to offer clinic-based breastfeeding support services (p<0.05) and trended toward fewer services in general.

Conclusions: Results confirmed previous findings of racial/ethnic disparities in breastfeeding rates. We also found that differences in the availability of breastfeeding support services were associated with the racial/ethnic composition of the catchment area. This apparent inequity in the availability of breastfeeding support services at different WIC sites may merit further exploration and may inform implementation of aspects of the U.S. Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding.

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Date Added
March 16, 2018

Evans K, Labbok M, Abrahams S (2011) WIC and Breastfeeding Support Services: Does the Mix of Services Offered Vary with Race and Ethnicity? Breastfeeding Medicine: Vol. 6, Issue 6, pp. 401-406. Available online: https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/bfm.2010.0086