“You should sign up for WIC!”
“Oh, are you on WIC?”
These were questions that I was frequently asked as soon as I became a Mom (aka pregnant) and planned on being a stay at home Mom.
You may have the same response right now, so let me explain what WIC is…
WIC is the Special Supplemental Nutritional Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). It is a federal assistance program that provides nutritious food for pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and children under the age of five.
It was originally started by doctors who saw so many low-income (women & children) patients who had pregnancy problems or childhood illnesses/issues simply due to a lack of food/nutrients. The doctors would “prescribe” certain foods for these women and children and that was all they needed to overcome certain health issues. This morphed into the federal assistance program that it is today.
Now, this sounds like a great deal, huh? Hold on to your horses! You have to apply and qualify to receive WIC assistance. There are four requirements:
- You must be pregnant, postpartum, breastfeeding or under the age of 5
- Your family income must be below the national poverty level (usually somewhere around 40k a year for a 4 person family)
- You must be a US citizen
- You must have “nutritional risk” (I will explain that one in a minute).
So if you meet those four requirements, what then?
Well, first you will get a bunch of paperwork in the mail. My original paperwork came when I was still pregnant with Tera. I had to fill out name, address, due date of baby, any complications, and of course….our income level. Once I mailed all that back, they called me and set up an appointment.
I arrived at the appointment VERY pregnant and unsure of what I was supposed to do. So, maybe if you are a woman in that position, this will help you out. First, you review all your paperwork, show proof of address/ID/proof of income, etc. Then, you are weighed and measured and they prick your finger to measure your iron levels. Next, you visit a nutritionist. The nutritionist reviews your height, weight and iron levels and asks a lot of ‘lifestyle’ questions, such as what you typically eat, how active you are, etc. They are very thorough. They often hand me a bunch of pamphlets explaining how much fruits and veggies I should be eating, how much meat and protein I should be getting, etc. This is where the “nutritional risk” comes in. Technically, the WIC program is not just for low-income women. It’s for low-income women who have nutritional “deficiencies” due to their low-income. Each time I have talked to the nutritionist, she says there is nothing essentially wrong with my diet, but that there are always things to improve on. We set a goal for the next visit (eat more vegetables, get my iron levels up, exercise 5x a week). And that makes me eligible for WIC.
What I just explained above what happens at every visit. Visits happen every three months.
As soon as Tera was born, I was required to call and give her birth date, her weight and length, etc. I now have to take Tera with me to every appointment and she is weighed, measured and her iron levels are checked.
(Ok, it wasn’t as.soon.as Tera was born, but they said to call pretty much as soon as possible).
So, what are the benefits?
- Meetings with a nutritionist. They weigh me and track my weight loss as well as my iron levels. Twice now I have found out that I need to up my iron. I found that out through WIC! They also weigh Tera and chart her, as well as check her iron.
- Breastfeeding support- I called and asked for a breast pump, and they got me one. Yes, for free. They also gave me the number for a lactation consultant, and told me call her anytime. All the ladies in my WIC office are huge fans of breastfeeding and are always praising me for continuing to breastfeed.
- The food benefits. Every month, I get certain foods through WIC. They gave me a brochure that tells me what amounts of what foods I can get, what brands and at what stores I can find these foods.
The foods included are:
beans or peas (canned or dried), peanut butter, eggs, fish (canned tuna or salmon), milk, cheese (only if breastfeeding), $10 of fruits and vegetables, juice, cereal, whole wheat bread
I went to the store and bought almost everything on my WIC card, so you can see what it includes.
The only things not included in that is 4 more gallons of milk, the juice, and some random fruit & veggie dollars.
Ok, so all that food listed above is for my nutrition. Technically, I’m not even supposed to share with Theo, but obviously we share. Since I exclusively breastfed up to six months of Tera’s age, I got cheese and extra eggs and milk. WIC provides formula for women who choose to formula feed, but they strongly encourage breastfeeding.
Once Tera hit six months, WIC started to provide baby food for Tera.
The deal with the baby food is the same as with the groceries. It can only be a certain brand, and it can’t be mixed anything. We get meat baby foods and fruits/veggies. So far the amount of baby food that we get is more than enough for Tera for the whole month.
Ok! So now that we have all the information, let’s talk benefits and downsides.
Obviously, there are huge benefits to WIC!
- free food!
- Helpful WIC workers during visits and on-call
There are also some downsides that I will make you aware of:
- WIC is suuuuuper picky about the brands and the amounts. Take peanut butter, for example. It can only be a 16-18 oz container. I am not allowed to get whipped, added jelly, marshmallow, honey or other foods, or fortified/enhanced varieties. It has to be the store brand. The first few months that I bought my WIC foods, I had to take the pamphlet and it took me about two hours to find the right brands and the right amounts. It was super stressful. Now that I’ve been on WIC for about a year, I know exactly what type to grab. Although sometimes I grab some fruits/veggies and end up paying for them instead of getting WIC credit. I still haven’t figured out the trick! To this day I have not found the juice concentrate in the store….so that is why it is not included in the above picture!
- You should see the eye rolls I get from other customers at the store when I am in the checkout line and pull out my WIC cards. It sometimes feels embarrassing and there is often some kind of hassle that makes checking out take much longer.
Things to consider:
- WIC benefits start on the first of the month and expire the last day of the month. No rollovers.
- You must attend appointments or you won’t get the benefits. It makes sense, but it’s so easy to forget.
- WIC benefits in no way cover the entire grocery bill. They certainly cover all the milk that we drink, and we have enough tuna and peanut butter to survive a zombie apocalypse…but WIC certainly doesn’t pay for all my groceries.
- I have heard from several other women who live in different parts of the country that WIC is different depending on the state/county. The overall concept is the same, but my cousin even mentioned that in one state she got awesome nutritional foods and in another WIC gave processed junk instead. So, it’s completely up to you and your research to figure out if WIC is right for you and your family (assuming you qualify).
All right! I *think* that about covers it! Let me know if you have questions…I can try to answer them to the best of my ability. Also, if you have comments to add, please let me know! I am NOT an expert in the subject matter, this is just my experiences and opinions.