Breastfeeding initiation increased among WIC participants and WIC-eligible nonparticipants across racial and ethnic groups from 2009–17

Line chart showing breastfeeding initiation rates by WIC participation and race/ethnicity between 2009 and 2017.

Breastfeeding is considered the best source of nutrition for infants and is therefore promoted by USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Initiation, one breastfeeding metric, refers to breastfeeding an infant shortly after birth, including at or before discharge from the hospital. From 2009 to 2017, rates of breastfeeding initiation increased among low-income women regardless of WIC participation status or race/ethnicity. Hispanic women had the highest rates of breastfeeding initiation throughout the study period. Non-Hispanic Black women had the lowest rates of breastfeeding initiation, but they experienced the largest gains (22.3 percent among WIC participants and 24.1 percent among WIC-eligible nonparticipants). Compared with WIC-eligible nonparticipants (80.1 percent), WIC participants (78.5 percent) continued to have lower rates of breastfeeding initiation overall, although the gap in initiation between WIC-eligible nonparticipants and WIC participants closed for some racial/ethnic groups. In 2009, Asian/Pacific Islander women had the largest gap in breastfeeding initiation by WIC status. By 2017, this gap had narrowed and reversed direction because of a greater increase in breastfeeding initiation among WIC participants (21.4 percent) compared with WIC-eligible nonparticipants (8.6 percent). This pattern also was observed for American Indian/Alaska Native women and for non-Hispanic White women. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s Amber Waves article Rates of Breastfeeding Initiation Increased Among Low-Income Women, 2009–17; Racial and Ethnic Disparities Persist, released October 2023.

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