WithinReach is trying to get the word out to African American families about the various services they offer and to encourage breast feeding. WithinReach, formerly Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Washington, provides health information and referral services to the people of Washington.
They have four toll-free phone lines: Family Health Hotline, Family Food Hotline, Take Charge Hotline (birth control) and the Healthy Kids Now Hotline (health insurance). The Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children is a program available to pregnant women and post-partum women, infants and children under age of five.
"The goal for WIC is to give children a healthy start," Sasseen said. "People participating in WIC are more likely to be immunized and more likely to get into prenatal care early. We educate and encourage people to use preventative health care and help them find and get it."
WIC families receive monthly food vouchers that are to be spent on healthy foods such as milk, cereal, cheese, eggs and dried beans at their neighborhood grocery store. WIC also provides prenatal, postnatal and breastfeeding support for moms as well as growth monitoring and dental referrals, immunization update information and much more. WIC is meant to support the child and any primary caregiver may enroll the child and bring them to their appointments. Your family may be eligible even if you are working, a single parent or receiving food stamps.
"There are lots of benefits to WIC participation for women and children," said Kristin Sasseen, Heath Services Administrator with the Washington State Department of Health WIC program. "Lower rates of low birth weight, premature births, improved immunization rates, access to prenatal care, lower SIDS rates and the more African American families we get in to WIC the more we can get rid of some of the health disparities in those areas."
Since African American women have a higher rate of prematurely and lower birth weights, a special grant from the regional WIC office added $75,000 to their outreach program to specifically target African Americans. Sasseen said to contact WIC as soon as you know you're pregnant so they can begin their services — not just after the baby's born. Recent studies have shown low birth weights were reduced by 40 percent among WIC participants.
"Children who aren't breast fed have a higher rate of infections, higher rates of infant mortality, more allergies and asthma, are more likely to die of SIDS, more likely to have diabetes later in life, childhood obesity and women who don't breast feed have higher risk for getting breast and cervical cancer," Sasseen said. "A lot of these things that are higher in non-breast fed infants or women who don't breast feed are the exact same things that are high in the African American population."
African American women have the lowest breast feeding rate in the nation. Sasseen said some of that may be due to the fact the community as a whole doesn't support breastfeeding. If the whole community and families knew about the recent research on breastfeeding and the many positive benefits from it that it would dispel the myth that formula is just as good as breast milk when it's not, she added.
"A woman needs a whole community supporting her to breast feed," Sasseen said.
Sasseen said they provide breast pumps for women who need to go back to work. If you are on Medicaid you're automatically eligible for WIC, and some people are still eligible for WIC even if you get a raise at your job, so Sasseen encourages everyone to check the income guidelines even if you think you're not eligible.
"There are consequences when you don't breastfeed," Sasseen said. "There are long and short term health consequences for both you and your child. Anything that would reduce the rate of diabetes would really be something worth doing."
There are 230 WIC sites around the state, so anywhere someone lives there is a WIC clinic close to their home. WIC also has a nutrition and health education program that offers information on healthy eating, budgeting to provide your family with healthy foods and how to give your child a health diet and snacks.
"There aren't very many things you can do for a short period of time that would have a lifelong health consequence but with breastfeeding, you do it for six months to a year, and your impacting your child's health for their whole life and your health for your whole life," Sasseen said.
All it takes to apply is a phone call, and then come in for a 45-minute appointment where they will take your weight and height measurements, take a blood test to make sure you're not anemic and get your health history. WIC employees will tell you right then and there if you are eligible for benefits and if so, you walk out of the office with a check for healthy foods in your hand, no waiting in the mail for them.
For more information on the WIC program and WithinReach, call (800) 322-2588 or visit www.withinreachwa.org. To determine if your family is eligible for services, visit www.parenthelp123.org.