Planting Seeds: A Naturalistic Inquiry Into the Perceptions and Experiences of WIC Peer Counselors as they Interact with Mothers Making their Infant Feeding Decisions


Breastfeeding rates in the United States lag behind other developed and developing nations resulting in poorer outcomes for both the mother and infant (Dieterich, Felice, O’Sullivan, & Rasmussen, 2013). Breastfeeding confers health benefits for the infant by providing immunities against otitis media, gastrointestinal illnesses, necrotizing enterocolitis, childhood obesity and diabetes (AAP, 2012; Rasmussen, Latulippe, and Yaktine, 2016). Breastfeeding benefits the mother by providing decreased risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers, hypertension, obesity, and myocardial infarction (Schwarz & Nothnagle, 2015). Despite these and other benefits, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) participants are less likely to breastfeed compared to non-WIC participants (Tenefelde, Finnegan, & Hill, 2011) and have not met any Healthy People 2020 breastfeeding goals (Rasmussen, Latulippe, & Yaktine, 2016). There is a paucity of research pertaining to what happens in WIC offices as (WIC) Peer Counselors (WPCs) interact with mothers making their infant feeding decisions and there is a gap in the literature examining the perceptions and experiences of WPCs as they deal with their WIC clients. This study utilized Naturalistic Inquiry (Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Erlandson et al., 1993) to explore and describe the perceptions and experiences of WPCs as they interact with mothers as they are making their infant feeding decisions. Participants were recruited via purposive and snowball sampling resulting in nine WPCs who dealt with WIC mothers making their infant feeding decisions. Data collection and analysis was informed by semi-structured face-to-face interviews. Trustworthiness was assured using Lincoln and Guba’s criteria. Findings from the study highlighted the role of WIC peer counselors and how they get their breastfeeding messages across by using innovative strategies to help their WIC clients initiate and sustain breastfeeding. WIC’s utilizations of WPCs to support and promote breastfeeding has enhanced their breastfeeding rates (WIC Data Tables, USDA, 2020).

Health Sciences, Nursing, Education, Early Childhood, Women's Studies