Increased breastfeeding rates among WIC infants would raise program costs

Bar chart shows change in participation and program costs if breastfeeding rates in WIC reach medically recommended levels, 2016

Breastfeeding promotion and support is a priority in USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Although breastfeeding rates among infants participating in WIC have been increasing in recent decades, they remain below those of other infants. At the request of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations, ERS examined the economic impacts of breastfeeding on the WIC program. ERS researchers estimated the economic costs and benefits if breastfeeding rates for WIC infants were more aligned with medically recommended levels i.e., if 90 percent of infants participating in WIC in 2016 had been exclusively breastfed for their first 6 months, followed by another 6 months with complementary foods—but no infant formula. Results from the analysis indicate that the number of mothers who participated in WIC that year would have increased by 646,000 per month, an 8-percent increase in the monthly number of total participants. This increase is the result of breastfeeding mothers being able to participate in WIC for 12 months postpartum versus 6 months for nonbreastfeeding mothers. Although infants’ food package costs would have decreased by $546.7 million that year, mothers’ food package costs would have increased by $512.9 million, and nutrition services and administrative costs would have increased by another $286.2 million. The net effect would have been an increase of $252.4 million—a 4-percent increase in total 2016 program costs. This chart appears in the ERS report, The Economic Impacts of Breastfeeding: A Focus on USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), released on February 14, 2019.

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