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Nutrition essential for mothers, babies
Health advice
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The importance of proper nutrition is constantly stressed in the news these days, thanks, in part, to a lot of research on specific diseases, human and genetic development and obesity. We already know that proper nutrition is the foundation of good health for people in all stages of life.
This is especially true for babies developing in the womb as they form body parts and organs. After birth, proper nutrition helps infants strengthen muscles and become active little individuals, eager to climb and explore everything within reach. Proper nutrition also is a necessity during pregnancy. It is important to the developing fetus and the mother carrying the baby.
Eating healthy will help the mother-to-be maintain her own good health throughout the pregnancy and even much later in life. Staying healthy can help prevent labor and birth complications and may increase easier, less painful labor and births. Moms who eat well maintain their strength, are able to bond more easily with their infants and can safely breastfeed. Babies also will benefit from their mothers’ healthy habits.
Because healthy children become smarter, happier and more productive citizens, public health departments sponsor a program that helps residents achieve proper levels of nutrition — especially infants, young children and pregnant and lactating women.
The program is a supplemental nutrition program called WIC, which stands for “Women Infants and Children” food/nutrition program. It was created to improve nutritional deficiencies that can affect growth and development in infants, young children and pregnant and lactating women.
The Georgia WIC program is the nation’s fifth-largest, serving more than 310,000 residents annually and is 100 percent federally funded. More than 7 million people in the United States get WIC benefits each month and participation has risen steadily since the program began more than 31 years ago.
WIC participants receive food vouchers to redeem for specific foods each month. These are foods designed to supplement their diets — foods that are high in one or more of the following nutrients: protein, calcium, iron and vitamins A and C. Data show these are nutrients frequently lacking in the diets of the program’s target population. Different food packages are provided for different categories of participants.
In addition to supplemental nutritious foods, eligible clients are provided with nutrition education and counseling at WIC clinics, screenings and referrals to other health, welfare and social services. Breastfeeding support and counseling also is available.
Research has shown there is no better food than breast milk during a baby’s first year of life. Breastfeeding provides many healthy, nutritional, economical and emotional benefits to mothers and infants; therefore, WIC promotes breastfeeding for all pregnant women, unless medical problems arise.
WIC foods include iron-fortified infant formula (for mothers who elect not to breastfeed) and infant cereal, iron-fortified adult cereal, vitamin C-rich fruit and/or vegetable juice, eggs, milk, cheese, peanut butter, dried beans or peas, tuna fish and carrots. Special infant formulas and certain medical foods may be provided when prescribed by a physician or health professional for a specified medical condition.
WIC is a short-term program with participants graduating at the end of one or more certification periods. A certification period is the length of time a WIC participant is eligible to receive benefits. Depending on whether the individual is pregnant, postpartum, breastfeeding, an infant or a child, an eligible individual usually receives WIC benefits from six months to a year, at which time she/he must reapply.
To be eligible for the WIC program, applicants must meet the following four eligibility requirements:
Categorical: The WIC program is designed to serve certain categories of women, infants and children. Therefore, the following individuals are considered categorically eligible for WIC:
• pregnant women (through pregnancy and up to fix weeks after birth or after pregnancy ends).
• breastfeeding women (up to infant’s first birthday)
• non-breastfeeding postpartum women (up to six months after the birth of an infant or after pregnancy ends)
• infants (up to first birthday). WIC serves 45 percent of all infants born in the United States.
• children up to their fifth birthday.
Residential: Georgia applicants must live in this state and are required to live in a local service area in order to apply at a WIC clinic that serves that area. They are not required to live in the state (or local service area) for a certain amount of time in order to meet a residency requirement.
Some individuals are determined to be income-eligible for WIC because of certain other programs that they are eligible for. This is known as automatic income eligibility and includes individuals who are:
• eligible to receive food stamps, Medicaid, temporary assistance for needy families (TANF, formerly known as aid to families with dependent children)
• in a family in which certain members are eligible to receive Medicaid or TANF
• eligible to participate in certain other state-administered programs
Nutrition risk: This means an individual has medical-based or dietary-based conditions. Examples of medical-based conditions include anemia (low blood levels), underweight or history of poor pregnancy outcome. One example of a dietary-based condition would be a poor diet. To be eligible, an applicant must have at least one of the medical or dietary conditions on the state’s list of WIC nutrition risk criteria.
Applicants must be seen by a health professional (physician, nurse or nutritionist) who will determine whether the individual is at nutrition risk. In many cases, this is done in the WIC clinic at no cost to the applicant but it may also be obtained from another health professional — as the applicant’s physician.
To schedule an appointment, contact your local WIC clinic. Locations and clinic hours may be obtained by calling your local health department or you may access the information in this county on the Coastal Health District website,
To learn more about the Georgia WIC program or to get a list of WIC-approved foods, go to

Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.
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