Since National Nutrition Week was created in 1973, it has become National Nutrition Month every March. Also during that time, we have learned so much more about a key factor in a healthy childhood and a healthy life: a breastfed baby.
The WIC program at the Will County Health Department not only emphasizes breastfeeding, but also the importance of nutrition during pregnancy, and nutrition once the breastfeeding days have concluded.
WIC (Women, Infants, and Children Special Supplemental Nutrition Program) was created in 1966 as part of the Child Nutrition Act, pushed by then U. S. Senator Hubert Humphrey. Will County’s WIC office operates as part of the Health Department’s Family Health Services Division.
WIC Program Manager and Breastfeeding Coordinator Alissa McCormick says if you qualify within the income guidelines, or have a LINK card from the Department of Human Services, you can participate in the WIC program. It is also important to note that you no longer need to reside in the same county as the WIC program where you are participating, such as if there is one closer to you just across the county line.
McCormick says once you know you are pregnant, you can be certified to receive WIC services, pending documentation from a doctor. At that point, the journey to a healthy baby begins immediately. “Proper nutrition before the baby is born is so important,” McCormick said. “The program encourages you to eat foods high in iron, calcium, folic acid, protein, and Vitamin D.”
McCormick says there is more solid scientific evidence today about the benefits of breastfeeding than ever before.
“Breastfeeding creates a healthy microbiome (defined as ‘microorganisms working within an environment’) within the child’s body that helps protect against germs and infections. One reason for that is a protein complex known by the acronym HAMLET. It was found years ago, but research has shown its ability to kill bad cells and to not harm good cells.”
One way Will County’s WIC program encourages this important nutrition is through the Breastfeeding Peer Counseling Program. Anyone who participates in WIC is eligible to receive Peer Counselor services. Health Department WIC Coordinator Pat Krause says breastfeeding peer counselors offer “help from a friend,” which is something that can really encourage a new mom to start breastfeeding and stay with it.
“It’s just a mom talking to another mom,” Krause explained. “They’re not acting as an educator, but as a supporter sharing personal experiences. They offer a positive attitude of, ‘Hey, you can do this. If I could, so can you.’”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding until a child is one year old. Both Krause and McCormick say that often the child and the mother both know when it’s time to move on. It is often, they say, basically a mutual decision.
But what happens next? McCormick and Krause say it’s a matter of proper nutrition when the regular eating starts. McCormick points out that proper food and portion size are of utmost importance. “The parent decides what is available, that’s the key. So if you make nutritious items (such as fruits and raw vegetables) part of what is available, you’re on the right track. And sometimes when a child stops eating they are not being a picky eater. Instead, they are simply paying attention to their body’s message that they’ve had enough. It’s best to start small, and add more if they are still hungry.”
Krause agrees. “We encourage creative ideas to get fruits and vegetables into a child’s diet. And the parents need to set an example. The child will likely eat what’s in front of him or her if they see the family eating it.”
Another piece of advice from McCormick nutrition-wise is to not fall for an advertised product that might not be necessary. She mentioned items marketed as a “protein shake for kids who need a more balanced diet” as an example.
“You most likely do not need something like that. Unless your child’s doctor prescribes it, supplements like that are not needed, and might end up causing more problems than they fix. The key is always making the right foods available, and limiting access to less healthy foods.”
Finally, McCormick advises that one major factor in battling the obesity epidemic in today’s children is how food and eating is viewed inside their home and environment. “A relative, for example, who exhibits anxiety about the child perhaps not eating enough, unknowingly communicates to the child that their own instincts, telling them when they have eaten enough, cannot be trusted. So the child might ignore those instincts and keep eating to, shall we say, keep peace in the family. This causes children to think we should ‘live to eat,’ putting much of life’s focus on food. Instead, they should think of eating as "providing fuel for a good life, rich in good experiences.”
The Will County Health Department’s WIC program is available at its Joliet, Monee, and Bolingbrook locations (with a couple of stops in Wilmington each month as well). You can call 815-727-8524; or for the Bolingbrook location, 630-679-7010. For more on Will County Health Department programs go to www.willcountyhealth.org