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Breastfeeding Support During Certification and Food Package Issuance

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WIC Policy Memorandum 92 -3
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Policy Memos
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PDF Icon Policy Memo (1.56 MB)
DATE: February 20, 1992
MEMO CODE: Policy Memorandum 92 -3
SUBJECT: Breastfeeding Support During Certification and Food Package Issuance
TO: Regional Directors
Supplemental Food Programs
All Regions

Based on information received from a variety of sources, we believe WIC state and local agency staff need to provide additional support for breastfeeding at the time of certification and food package issuance in the following areas:

  • providing complete information to participants on WIC benefits for breastfeeding women;
  • resisting the distribution of unwanted infant formula to breastfeeding women; and,
  • obtaining the cooperation of retailers in not redeeming unused infant formula for WIC participants.

We realize that this is not a problem in all sites and we continue to be impressed by the hard work and achievements of WIC state and local agencies in many areas of breastfeeding promotion and support.

Providing Information to Participants on WIC Benefits to Support Breastfeeding

Focus groups with WIC participants conducted by the Breastfeeding Incentive Demonstration Project grantees indicated that many WIC participants were not aware of the special consideration and benefits the breastfeeding woman receives f rom the WIC program. When a pregnant woman is certified, WIC local agency staff should emphasize that:

  • Breastfeeding women are at higher level in the priority system than non-breastfeeding , postpartum women, and are more likely to be served than postpartum women when local agencies do not have the resources to serve all individuals who apply for the WIC program.
  • Breastfeeding women may receive WIC benefits for up to 1 .year while non-breastfeeding women are eligible for only 6 months postpartum.
  • WIC offers a greater variety and quantity of food to breastfeeding participants than to non-breastfeeding, postpartum participants. (This point will be especially important to emphasize when the enhanced breastfeeding woman's package is finalized.)

These benefits, especially the greater amount of food, can be presented as additional incentives to breastfeed. At the very least, postpartum WIC participant should fully understand the full range of program benefits available to them regardless of their choice of infant feeding method.

Inappropriate Distribution of Unwanted Infant Formula

It has come to our attention that some WIC local agencies are inappropriately providing infant formula to breastfeeding participants who do not want or need it. This concern has been raised at state agency meetings and has also been discussed directly with the Assistant Secretary for Food and Consumer Services by concerned WIC managers. On a more personal level, we recently received a letter from a former participant who was quite critical of the program for undermining her decision to breastfeed by encouraging her to accept infant formula (copy attached). The distribution of free samples to women who have chosen to breastfeed should also be discouraged. Both of these practices undermine the hard work of many WIC staff to promote and support breastfeeding in WIC.

WIC staff at various levels have expressed the belief that by issuing infant formula, money is saved for the program in the form of the rebate. We would like to clarify that infant formula rebates do not generate any new monies for the program; the rebate only lowers the total cost of infant formula, which still must be absorbed by the program. In sum, unwanted formula distributed is money lost.

Obtaining the Cooperation of Retailers in not Redeeming Unused Infant Formula for WIC Participants

Another problem that bas been brought to our attention on many occasions is that some WIC participants have been receiving cash in return for infant formula, particularly unopened cases, at local stores. We encourage states to make major retail chains in their areas aware of the negative effects of this practice. A "no-questions asked" policy, while commendable from a consumer services standpoint, encourages the inappropriate diversion of WIC benefits and may place infants who should be receiving this formula at significant nutritional risk. We realize that this is a difficult issue because implementation of an exchange policy requiring a cash register receipt will affect all consumers, not just WIC participants. However, we believe that if properly explained to retailers, retail grocer associations and drug store chains, states can expect to obtain a high level of cooperation in this matter.

We would appreciate your assistance in re-emphasizing to state agencies the importance of encouraging and supporting the decision of WIC participants to breastfeed by providing complete information at the time of certification, by not issuing unwanted or unneeded infant formula to the breastfeeding woman , and we also need to strongly discourage the redemption of infant formula by local retailers without a cash register receipt,

Supplement al Food Programs Division


Page updated: November 30, 2021

The contents of this guidance document do not have the force and effect of law and are not meant to bind the public in any way. This document is intended only to provide clarity to the public regarding existing requirements under the law or agency policies.