Does WIC help babies avoid cows milk?

    Study says the sooner mom’s enroll in the program, the more likely the are to hold off introducing cow’s milk until their babies are ready for it.

    Some low-income mothers are more likely than others to start their baby on cow’s milk, and other foods that infants aren’t ready for.

    Researchers from Penn State University say the government’s nutrition program may be leading moms to healthier choices.

    Moms enrolled in the nutrition program for Women, Infants, and Children are more likely to feed their baby formula instead of breast milk. That’s given the WIC program a bad reputation among some breastfeeding advocates.

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    While breastfeeding is clearly the healthiest choice for infants, study author Kathleen Ziol-Guest says WIC may help moms make good food choices once they’ve decided not to breastfeed.

    Mothers who enrolled in WIC in their first or second trimester of preganancy were less likely to introduce cow’s milk, compared with WIC-eligble moms who signed up late in pregnancy — or never at all.

    Ziol-Guest: The literature on cow’s milk is mixed and sketchy and there’s not much out there. But what we’re illustrating is that early entry into the program may actually have a protective factor in keeping moms from introducing cow’s milk too soon for their infants.

    Ziol-Guest is with the non-profit public policy group the Institute for Children and Poverty.

    It’s not clear from the study which factors helped moms avoid giving inappropriate foods to their infants. She says it could be counseling, it could be subsidized baby formula, or other factors.

    Dr. Esther Chung directs the Newborn Nursery at Jefferson Pediatrics. She wasn’t involved in the study but reviewed the findings.

    Chung: You have to be careful about how one interprets those results, because it could be that those who are not participating in WIC were not able to afford to continue formula for the full 12 months, which is why they may have introduced cow’s milk early.

    Chung says the study authors suggest that WIC counselors provide information and that leads to better nutrition choices. But she says it MAY only be easier access to formula that caused moms to delay cow’s milk.

    Until they are a year old, babies don’t have the proper enymes to break down cow’s milk. Introducing a regular diet too early can lead to an iron deficiency.

    The new study appears in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

    WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal