Volume 2 | September 2021
The Wonders of WIC
Since its beginnings the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, commonly known as WIC, has provided vital pre- and post-natal services to millions of moms, infants and young children through our state and local partners. The past year has refocused attention on just how vital WIC is and shone a light on the people, services, strategies and partnerships that work to serve WIC families across the Northeast Region. 
The Wonders of WIC is our way of capturing and sharing out your successes, your innovations and your people. In this edition we spotlight one of the Wonders of WIC…breastfeeding.
WIC Breastfeeding Awards of Excellence
In support of Breastfeeding Month, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service Northeast Region held a virtual ceremony for its 16 WIC Breastfeeding Gold Award of Excellence winners in the Northeast Region.

USDA established the award program to recognize local WIC agencies that have provided exemplary breastfeeding promotion and support to WIC moms. The intent is to provide models to help other WIC clinics strengthen their breastfeeding programs to increase breastfeeding initiation and duration rates nationwide.

Stacy Dean, the Deputy Under Secretary of the USDA Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, sent congratulatory remarks, highlighting the role of WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselors, saying, "The highly trained nutrition experts at the local agencies situated throughout the nation provide WIC participants assistance through their WIC journey. New moms overcome challenges and hit milestones with personalized assistance from Breastfeeding Peer Counselors. Those Counselors empower others from having paved their own similar path. Building upon the unique relationships program staff have with participants, families receive access to crucial resources through WIC's connection with its community."

See full remarks here-watch the video or read the transcript
Meet Our Gold Winners
(Photos - Awardee photos courtesy of featured WIC programs)
East Harford WIC, East Hartford, CT. During the pandemic, East Hartford WIC transitioned its popular group breastfeeding class to an interactive virtual platform, where its Peer Counselors play an integral role in supporting breastfeeding participants.
New Haven WIC, New Haven, CT. Using data collected from its annual participant surveys, New Haven WIC identify and improve areas of service for breastfeeding information and support. Last year, more than 96% of participants reported satisfaction with WIC services they received throughout their pregnancies.
Chelsea/Revere WIC Office, Revere, MA. Recipient of Massachusetts General Hospital's Partner in Excellence Team Award, Chelsea/Revere WIC offers a weekly support group for pregnant and breastfeeding participants.
Family Health Center Worcester WIC, Worcester, MA. Partnering with its parent agency Family Health Center, Worcester WIC's Peer Counselors contact WIC moms 24 hours after delivery and refer nonWIC moms to the Center's weekly virtual Baby Cafe.
Greater Lawrence Community Action Council, Lawrence, MA. Two bilingual Peer Counselors support WIC families, and Greater Lawrence WIC began collaborating with its local health center to offer the community postpartum support.
Somerville/Cambridge WIC, Somerville, MA. Peer Counselors at Somerville/Cambridge WIC are fluent in Spanish, Brazilian, Portuguese, French and Haitian Creole languages. Some also work as Birth Doulas offering their skills to moms who are expecting, experiencing labor or having recently given birth.
Greater Seacoast Community Health, Somersworth, NH. Offering strong support for breastfeeding parents returning to work, Greater Seacoast WIC Peer Counselors contact clients 2 weeks prior to their return to work date and provide human milk storage/handling guidelines and the State's applicable laws around breastfeeding and nursing.
Southwestern Community Services, Inc., Keene, NH. In a community where participants must travel great distances to access medical care, services provided by Southwestern Community Services Peer Counselors is crucial to WIC participants. These Counselors are available after clinic hours and outside clinic sites for breastfeeding support by phone, text or even in-person upon request.
Bedford Stuyvesant Family Health Center, Brooklyn, NY. Using data from routine Peer Counselor meetings and its annual needs assessment, Bedford Stuyvesant Family Health Center initiated the Sister-to-Sister Breastfeeding Support program, linking African American pregnant women and their close girlfriends, who act as breastfeeding cheerleaders.
Catholic Charities WIC of Buffalo, Buffalo, NY. Catholic Charities Peer Counselors increased the frequency of its contacts with WIC participants at each stage of pregnancy and postpartum. In light of the pandemic, Zoom groups were initiated where counselors and other experts run breastfeeding, preemie and multiples support groups.
Morris Heights Health Center WIC, Bronx, NY. Morris Heights WIC continually assesses its breastfeeding needs and pivots services where needed. Peer Counselors share their passion for breastfeeding via picture display boards and promotion information found at each WIC site.
Northwell Health Staten Island University Hospital, Staten Island, NY. In 2020, nearly 50% of WIC infants in Northwell Health Staten Island were fully or partially breastfed, thanks in no small part to the support of its Peer Counselors.
Oak Orchard Health WIC, Batavia, NY. Peer Counselors at Oak Orchard understand the value of social support and how relationships that turn into friendships affect breastfeeding initiation and duration rates.
Ryan Health WIC Program, New York, NY. Ryan Health Peer Counselors swiftly adjusted services during the pandemic to allow for connecting with participants on nights and weekends. This also helps support participants who work during traditional business hours.
SBH Health System, Bronx, NY. In 2020 SBH WIC infants had a breastfeeding rate of 53% thanks to support of its Peer Counselors.
Bennington District Office, Bennington, VT. Vermont's Breastfeeding Strategic Plan focuses on the role of WIC Peer Counselors. Bennington WIC staff use data to improve breastfeeding rates and tailor services to the community's needs.
Spotlight on Breastfeeding Peer Counselors

We interviewed Breastfeeding Peer Counselors working in WIC clinics in New York and Rhode Island.
Learn how these Peer Counselors connect with and support moms on their breastfeeding journeys.
(Photos courtesy of Peer Counselors featured)
Nikki Shaw, Breastfeeding Peer Counselor
in New York
In New York mom of two Nikki Shaw has been helping moms breastfeed since 2007, when she started her career as a Peer Counselor for Washington County WIC in Hudson Falls, NY.

Shaw grew up in a multi-generational matriarchal household, where breastfeeding was thought of not as a choice, but rather part of the motherhood experience. “The one thing we all knew,” said Shaw, “WIC was where you went to get information and support to have a healthy pregnancy and childhood.”

Elaine DeSisto, Breastfeeding Peer Counselor
in Rhode Island
In Rhode Island, mom of eight Elaine DeSisto, who is a State of RI licensed IBCLC, has been helping moms breastfeed since 1997, when she started her career as a Peer Counselor for WIC at Westbay Community Action in Warwick. She now works at Tri-County Community Action in Johnston, RI.

“When I was pregnant with my seventh child my husband, who is a baker, got laid off and someone told me about WIC,” said DeSisto.
“After my eighth child the coordinator, who knew I had exclusively breastfed each of my babies, asked if I’d be interested in joining a new program where moms who have been successful with breastfeeding can mentor other moms as Peer Counselors and I just blossomed into this job. I love it.”

Spotlight on Breastfeeding Moms
Mom of two Bridgetlee connected with Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Joy at Sun River Health Poughkeepsie, in Poughkeepsie, NY, along her breastfeeding journey.

Bridgetlee had the goal of breastfeeding her children for 2 years. “I breastfed my daughter until her second birthday and my son for 2 years and 7 months.” She also pumped and donated milk.

She wanted to breastfeed to “help give my babies the best start possible and to bond with them.”

Bridgetlee credits Joy with helping her successfully breastfeed, which she said, “was painful at first, but then got easier. It was great working with someone who had a baby at the same time as me who was going through similar things, from nursing an infant to the wild world of breastfeeding a toddler!"

Commenting on the help, support and kindness she received at WIC, “I hope that any new moms thinking of breastfeeding know that there are many resources out there to help if you are struggling. Never quit on a bad day!” Bridgetlee teaches prenatal classes at Sun River Health and is studying to be a nurse.
Mom of three Guisel worked with Breastfeeding Peer Counselors Linda and Raisa at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, Jamaica, NY during her breastfeeding journey.

“My first experience breastfeeding was horrible,” said Guisel. “I was actually afraid of my child whenever he had to eat because it was so painful, and I had no idea that it shouldn’t have been.” Despite this, Guisel had the goal of breastfeeding her children until age 2, and once she was successfully breastfeeding, “it felt very natural to me like an instant bond connection.”

WIC’s Peer Counselors “helped me with questions and concerns I had. At one time I had so much milk that even under my arms I had gathered lumps of milk.” While initially helping her to successfully breastfeed, Guisel is now working with her Peer Counselor to help her to wean her child.

Guisel also says “the WIC nutritionists are amazing, sharing lots of information.  My nutritionist at the time Sharon was very informative and helpful with my oldest who has celiac disease, giving me peace of mind.”
(Photos courtesy of moms featured)
Regional Breastfeeding Trends
Regional Breastfeeding Rate Charts
The graph below shows the breastfeeding rates trending in the Northeast Region.
The Northeast continues to exceed the national rate. USVI and VT lead the region!

Click on the graph below to see breastfeeding rates for each New England State, New York
and the US Virgin Islands.
Breastfeeding Support During the Pandemic
During the global pandemic the WIC service model had to quickly transition from in-person to remote.

Below we share some of the innovative strategies WIC employed to support breastfeeding families this past year.

(Photo courtesy of BreastfeedLA)
In the US Virgin Islands, WIC increased its remote contacts with participants. Counselors call and
FaceTime to help moms latch baby and assist with other breastfeeding issues.

In Vermont, Tricia Cassi, WIC Breastfeeding Program Coordinator at the Vermont Department of Health, appeared on WCAX-TV 3 to speak about breastfeeding and the resources available to help moms.

In Rhode Island, WIC staff increased contacts with participants offering them support via phone, email, text, FaceTime, mail and Zoom, while its IBCLCs in birthing hospitals and pediatric offices continue to provide in-person services to WIC families. Peer Counselors serve as trusted messengers of the latest CDC guidance on infection prevention.

In New York, a Local Agency YouTube Channel was created to discuss infant care and share videos of staff reading child-friendly nutrition-related books. Virtual support groups via Go-to-Meetings are offered monthly to participants and their spouses, relatives and friends to increase awareness and support around breastfeeding. Peer Counselors proactively reach out, rather than waiting for scheduled calls, with participants letting them know "WIC is here for you."

In New Hampshire, Peer Counselors at Community Action Program Belknap-Merrimack Counties, Inc. received work cell phones and laptops to work remotely. While connecting with participants via calls and text protected staff and families, the loss of the in-person contact was bitter sweet for staff. At Southern NH Services, participants loved the flexibility of remote services and found comfort talking to Peer Counselors on their own terms in their own homes. Staff found moms are more willing to open up and talk during the calls, making for a more meaningful connection.

In Maine, York County Community Action Corp loan out scales for high risk babies and do weekly weight check-ins. The Breastfeeding Coordinator at Bangor Public Health & Community Services attends Breastfeeding Coalition Meetings via Zoom to pool together resources and disseminate information locally and statewide.

In Massachusetts, breastfeeding assistance went virtual with Zoom support groups and prenatal classes.

In Connecticut, the State Breastfeeding Unit holds monthly calls to keep up to date with the latest evidenced-based training webinars and evolving COVID recommendations. In line with its Fatherhood Initiative Project, launched in 2018, WIC supported six father advocates that work with WIC participants to study and sit for the Certified Lactation Counselor course and exam.
Breastfeeding Month Highlights
Each August across New England, New York and the US Virgin Islands celebrations are held to highlight National Breastfeeding Month, World Breastfeeding Week, National WIC Breastfeeding Week, Indigenous Milk Medicine Week, Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Week and Black Breastfeeding Week.

Below is a sampling of the hundreds of events that took place.

(The posts are courtesy of featured Facebook sites)

Rhode Island
Children's Friend holds its annual Big Latch On at Roger Williams Park.

@USDANutrition recognized the hard work and efforts that occur at the State and local levels that aid pregnant and postpartum participants.
WIC at Bristol Health celebrates breastfeeding families.

US Virgin Islands
Virgin Islands WIC featured profiles of their staff that support families along their breastfeeding journeys.

New York
Essex County WIC featured a video celebrating breastfeeding families.
Brattleboro, Springfield and White River Junction featured photos of breastfeeding and chestfeeding folks.

New Hampshire
Southwestern Community Services featured videos of WIC staff that support breastfeeding families.
Dorchester North/Mattapan WIC held an event to celebrate breastfeeding moms.
Aroostook County Action Program Inc featured videos highlighting their Lactation Counselors.
Around the Region
USDA congratulates the Vermont Department of Health as a recipient of a WIC Breastfeeding Performance Bonus Award in the amount of $11,084.

This award is in recognition of the State agency’s outstanding achievement in sustaining high breastfeeding rates among its WIC participants during federal fiscal year 2020. Vermont is one of six State agencies in the country receiving a Breastfeeding Bonus Award.
Community Action Program Belknap-Merrimack Counties, Inc., in New Hampshire organized a World Breastfeeding WIC 2021 Celebration and Walk.
Peer Counselors at Tapestry Health WIC in Massachusetts got into the spirit of World Breastfeeding Week, with customized T-shirts and breastfeeding promotion posters. 
US Virgin Island's WIC and Maternal Child Health partnered on a Let's Talk Nutrition TV Show in March to focus on the Nutrition Month theme Personalize Your Plate! The talk show, which aired on Facebook Live, was a fun and creative way to engage youth with kids teaching kids about building a healthy plate.
BMS Family Health Center WIC in New York hosted a virtual discussion via Zoom where breastfeeding clients shared their experiences of how the pandemic affected them. The interactive platform allowed for a lively and fun discussion among participants.
New Haven, CT WIC created a bilingual Get to Know the New Haven Breastfeeding Peer Counselors sheet, to share electronically as a way to introduce participants to the person who would be calling, texting or using the virtual platform and personalize new peer referrals.
(Photos courtesy of state and local WIC programs)
A Look Back
Our WIC Offices Share Highlights from the Past Year
In the US Virgin Islands, WIC joined a local radio show to promote its program services and Peer Counselors. A caller thanked her Counselor Ms. Stapleton live on air for the support during the difficult first weeks of breastfeeding.

In Vermont, Brattleboro, Springfield and White River Junction local health teams work with employers to create breastfeeding-friendly workplaces and support Vermonters through WIC.

In Rhode Island, the 2020 Big Latch went virtual with 33 participants, thanks to the sponsorship and promotion from RI WIC.

In New York, Hauppauge and Bay Shore locations received "Breastfeeding Friendly" designations from Northwell Hospital's BFREE Team, as part of a "Creating Breastfeeding Friendly Communities" grant with NY State Department of Health. In New York City, Councilmember Robert E. Cornegy Jr. (36th District) held a Wellness Wednesday Food Distribution & Motherhood Appreciation Day, where information about WIC's Peer Counseling Program was provided.

In New Hampshire, Southern NH Services hosts a message board forum on Facebook for women to share their breastfeeding experiences. Southwester Community Services created a video to highlight staff and breastfeeding on Facebook.

In Maine, all counseling staff and Breastfeeding Peer Counselors are certified Lactation Counselors at Bangor Public Health & Community Services. Newborn Nutrition Classes are offered bi-monthly via Zoom and 5-minute videos, created by the Peer Counselor, on common breastfeeding topics are posted to social media, Staff at the Opportunity Alliance pivoted to a work from home model while maintaining excellent breastfeeding support to WIC families, many of which have especially high needs throughout the pandemic.

In Massachusetts, Facebook Live took center stage, hosting events around milk banks, nutrition and the role of grandmothers in helping their children when it comes to how new moms feed their babies and experience the postpartum period.

In Connecticut, New Haven Peer Counselor Danielle Blakney gave opening remarks and introduced Representative Rosa DeLauro at the NWA Hill Briefing: Enhancing WIC's Cash Value Benefit. Danielle, a lactation trailblazer, recently sat for the IBCLC exam and has joined the Connecticut Breastfeeding Coalition Board. The successful It's Worth IT media campaign, developed to highlight important steps to encourage and help Connecticut families meet their breastfeeding goals, ran in targeted areas statewide and its social media toolkit was shared with key partners.
Get to Know Your USDA Regional WIC Team
Get to know your Regional WIC Team members - Jheanell West and Tessa Lasswell.
(Photos courtesy of staff featured)
Jheanell West is a Team Lead for the Northeast Regional Office WIC Team. Jheanell specializes in the areas of MIS, EBT, procurement, as well as the WIC and Seniors Farmers' Market Nutrition Programs.

She has worked for the USDA in SNAP and has been with the WIC Team for a little over a year.
Prior to joining FNS, Jheanell worked in Nutrition for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. She’s also served as the Out of School Time Site Director for the YMCA Boston.

In her free time, she likes to - oh, who is she kidding? Jheanell is mom to three small children. She has little to no free time. Jheanell enjoys spending time with her boisterous twins, who were micro preemies born at 25 weeks in March 2020, her animated 5-year-old Jordan and husband Jerome. Jheanell also enjoys hiking the Blue Hills on Sundays and participating in an occasional High Intensity Bootcamp.
Tessa Lasswell is the Nutritionist for the Northeast Regional Office WIC Team. Tessa specializes in the areas of nutrition services and breastfeeding as well as certification and eligibility. She also supports the WIC and Seniors Farmers' Market Nutrition Programs.

Tessa has worked with the USDA since spring 2021. Prior to joining the Agency, she worked at the University of Minnesota as a Study Coordinator on food insecurity and chronic disease related studies in the School of Public Health.

Tessa has a Master’s in Public Health that she completed in a coordinated program while completing her Registered Dietitian internship. She recently completed a Program Evaluation Certificate to better understand the theory behind evaluation, while gaining practical application of evaluation to refine her skills.

Tessa enjoys running, yoga and any activity that can get her outdoors. She is also on a quest to learn about New England, her soon to be home, having lived in Minnesota all her life. Ideally, she would enjoy exploring New England by way of its pizza!
Breastfeeding Resources
USDA's Food and Nutrition Service offers a digital image collection for FNS' nutrition assistance programs and their partners to download and use in communicating education and outreach messages. And here's a link to the CDC guidance about COVID-19 and breastfeeding.

WIC Image and Breastfeeding Support Gallery

WIC Image Gallery - Food Packages, Peer Counseling and More

CDC Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) and Breastfeeding Guidance
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