On Tuesday, August 10, 2021, the Skagit County Board of Commissioners made a proclamation to recognize August as National Breastfeeding Month. The Skagit County Breastfeeding Coalition delivered a presentation during the hearing to highlight the health benefits for infants and parents while also calling out barriers that may impede a parent’s ability to breastfeed.

“We have lots of people who support breastfeeding families,” said Teri Schilling, Lactation Consultant with Island Hospital and Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Lead with our Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, “but I don’t know if our families are all aware of what resources are out there in our community.”

There are also major public health benefits when an entire community supports and encourages breastfeeding. Breastfeeding provides greater immunity from infection for babies, strengthened bonding and attachment between parent and child, and reduced incidence of infant mortality and SIDS. Babies who are breastfed grow up to be less prone to behavioral and health challenges, providing additional benefits to schools, employers, and the medical system. Jennifer Sass-Walton, Child and Family Health Manager with Skagit County Public Health, shared that health officials are now seeing evidence that parents who are vaccinated against COVID-19 pass along moderate to high levels of antibodies to their children through breast milk. 

WIC program staff play a significant role in supporting breastfeeding parents in Skagit County. Our team provides breastfeeding tips and supplies, monthly classes, and on-site assistance with Apple Health insurance, food stamps, and certified Lactation Consultant appointments. More than half of all infants born in Skagit County are supported through WIC. The program also employs Breastfeeding Peer Counselors who have direct experience as breastfeeding parents. “I felt isolated and wanted to give up nursing many, many times,” Ashley Schaefer, one of our Breastfeeding Peer Counselors, shared of her own breastfeeding journey during the hearing, “I didn’t, but it was still hard and could have been a lot easier had I known about these resources.”

The presentation also highlighted a recent milestone for WIC: Recognition as a gold level Breastfeeding Clinic by Washington State Department of Health’s Breastfeeding Friendly initiative. The free quality improvement program outlines ten steps in order to qualify. These include training all staff in the skills necessary to support breastfeeding, expanding local networks of support, and assessing infants during early follow-up appointments. WIC and the Mount Vernon Birth Center are among the first to be gold level certified in Skagit County.

There are undeniable benefits to breastfeeding. But without widespread support from peers, family members, employers, and friends, many parents or other caregivers will struggle. The best way we can support our breastfeeding community? “Give parents moral support, support breastfeeding needs in the workplace, and tell parents to come to WIC!” says Wende Dolstad, WIC Manager and Registered Dietician Nutritionist. WIC is one of several breastfeeding resources in Skagit County and a great place for any new parent or caregiver to start. 

Correctly understanding how WIC works is another way of supporting parents and caregivers. Dolstad says she’s heard misconceptions that the program only provides food-related support, or that by one family taking WIC assistance, another will lose out. “That’s simply not true,” shares Wende, “WIC is more than just food. We also provide education and moral support to families, referrals to other forms of assistance, and often can provide tangible items like diapers, breast pumps, clothing, and more.” Accessing WIC resources does not affect another qualifying parent or family. As long as income requirements are met, any person who is pregnant, post-partum (0-6 months), breastfeeding an infant up to age 1, infants and foster infants, children up to age 5 (including foster children and children being cared for by others) may qualify. WIC caregivers of any gender and type may also benefit, including grandparents, male caregivers, husbands and partners.

Recent key changes have also improved the way the program supports families. Changes include the switch to an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card instead of paper checks, the addition of more money each month for healthy fruits and vegetables to EBT cards, and the expansion to schedule remote appointments. “It’s easier than ever to get connected to WIC,” says Wende. It’s also easier than ever for WIC families to buy exactly what they need, when they need it. WIC funds may now be used at many farmers markets. The move to EBT also creates less food waste as parents and caregivers may now purchase items as needed before funds expire rather than all at once with a single check.

“This month is our call to action,” stated Milo Nicholas, Breastfeeding Friendly Coordinator, during the August 10 hearing, “and a reminder of the good work our community and maternity care providers and birth workers are doing to support parents. It takes all of us.”

WIC provides services at three locations in Mount Vernon, Anacortes, and at the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. Learn more and contact your local office at http://www.communityactionskagit.org/wic/. To find out more about breastfeeding services, supports, and resources in Skagit County, visit https://skagitbreastfeeding.org/.