Breastfeeding integration through collaboration

“Boobie, boobie,” my 16-month-old Willow insists I nurse her beloved doll as she hoists my breast toward its mouth.

“Boobie, boobie,” she reaches down my mother’s and grandmother’s shirts when mine aren’t in sight.

“Boobie, boobie,” she squeals each morning as I groggily stir from slumber.

Infant and young childrens’ admiration for breasts is hilarious at times but also signifies something greater: their natural inclination to survive.

That said, the people who dedicate themselves to mothers’ and children’s breastfeeding journeys, the ones who help advance the field of human lactation and the ones who help families achieve the healthiest starts for their children, should be celebrated.

I feel so privileged to be able to attend Healthy Children Project’s upcoming 17th Annual International Breastfeeding Conference in Orlando where these amazing people will come together to network, learn and have a great time!

Learning from one another 

Screen shot 2012-12-30 at 8.33.16 PM
Of these incredible lactation care workers is Breastfeeding Coordinator at Maternity Care Coalition (MCC) Katja Pigur, MEd, CLC who will speak about developing a collaborative approach to MCC’s Breastfeeding Friendly Philadelphia Campaign. Pigur says she is looking forward to connecting with and learning from other lactation professionals and supporters.

“Every community is really unique and I really believe we can learn from each other,” she says. “At the end, it’s all about joining efforts.”

While Pigur says the field of lactation can sometimes be exhausting, coming together with other professionals and engaging in open conversation will be uplifting and energizing.

“I am looking forward to having a good time together and coming home with new energy.”

CLC diversity

Pigur says she became interested in becoming a Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC) when she started specifically addressing barriers to breastfeeding through her various projects with MCC. Having breastfed her son, she says she is personally familiar with the barriers to breastfeeding.

“The CLC training is really great because you find a very diverse group that offers breastfeeding support in many different ways,” Pigur says. “It gave me insight and passion for breastfeeding.”

Healthy Children Project's “Learn to Teach the 20 Hour” course in Philadelphia
Healthy Children Project’s “Learn to Teach the 20 Hour” course in Philadelphia

For instance, healthy newborns naturally crawl to the mothers’ breast after birth to nurse when immediately placed skin to skin without interference.

“When I saw the breast crawl video, it was an ‘aha!’ moment for me,” Pigur says.

She says she realized that often healthcare is not focused on moms’ and babies’ needs but more so on what is normal for health care providers. After her CLC training, Pigur says she realized maternal infant care sometimes needs to be “hands off.”

Comprehensive care model

Although Pigur suggests a hands-off approach at time, the services that MCC provides are very involved.

Services provided to families are home-based.

“It’s a very different perspective when you go into the home of the clients,” Pigur explains. She says that home visits provide a unique opportunity to involve the whole family in breastfeeding education and support.

To encourage breastfeeding from the start, MCC integrates breastfeeding education into its pregnancy programs.

MCC is currently engaged in a pilot project that sends doulas also certified as lactation counselors to areas of the community with very low breastfeeding rates.

“The program really provides comprehensive support,” Pigur says.

Eventually, MCC plans to expand services to a larger area.

Extending services

MCC’s Breastfeeding Friendly Philadelphia Campaign (BFPC) launched in 2010 to support employers and healthcare facilities in their efforts to implement breastfeeding support.

Efforts are funded by the Get Healthy Philly campaign of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. [Retrieved from:]

2012 Breastfeeding Friendly Model Employers honored at a public ceremony during World Breastfeeding Week.
2012 Breastfeeding Friendly Model Employers honored at a public ceremony during World Breastfeeding Week.

BFPC works closely with four of the six birthing hospitals in Philadelphia, all of which are on their way to achieving Baby-Friendly designation, Pigur says.

BFPC also helps business owners comply with the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which ensures breastfeeding employees are provided breaktime to pump for nursing children. For more information on MCC’s Breastfeeding-Friendly employers, visit

To further breastfeeding support, many Philadelphia business owners have pledged their businesses Breastfeeding-Friendly by placing a “Breastfeeding Welcome Here” decal in their windows. BFPC asks that business owners train employees to accommodate breastfeeding patrons. Find a list of Breastfeeding-Friendly employers and businesses here.

Starting conversation

When BFPC was in its infancy, Pigur says that it was difficult to get the conversation going about breastfeeding.

“You have to find the right people that are open to talk,” she says.

Pigur also explains that in a difficult economic environment, breastfeeding support isn’t always a priority for business owners. In reality, supporting breastfeeding employees saves a business money even if it is initially perceived as a financial hurdle.

“There is still a lack of acknowledgement of the far reaching consequences of not supporting [breastfeeding],” Pigur explains. “People don’t really see it as a public health issue.”

To remedy this, Pigur suggests creating open conversation about breastfeeding within the community.

For other communities looking to implement a program similar to BFPC, Pigur has this advice:  Don’t be afraid of conversation. Think strategically. Involve yourself. Initiate change.

Additionally, she says that it’s always good when you can show some kind of success.

“When you start something, look for low hanging fruit,” Pigur explains. “When you have those you can build up a track record of success.”

She adds that reinventing the wheel is wasted energy.

When implementing BFPC, she looked across state borders at other programs and adjusted them to the needs of her community.

Remaining in a bubble won’t change anything she says. Instead, Pigur again suggests approaching everyone in the community to open greater conversation.

“That gives you the opportunity to address concerns and doubts,” she says. “The more you talk about it, the more you’ll normalize breastfeeding.”

Social profit works to normalize birth and breastfeeding

Porchia-Albert teaches an ASDS doula training at Freebrook Spaces in Brooklyn, NY.

Attention: If you had your doubts about women doing it all, I’ve found one who can. She’s a mother of four all under the age of four and simultaneously, she is saving the world.

She talks about her accomplishments as though they’re effortless, like her benevolence is a simple expectation.

In Fall 2008 this wonder woman I speak of, Chanel Porchia-Albert, founded Ancient Song Doula Services (ASDS), a social profit organization offering free and low cost doula services mainly to teens and women of color residing in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx.

History behind services

Here’s the organization’s start up story: Porchia-Albert, a broker at the time, walked through a birth expo on her way home through Union Square. Not intending to have children at this point in her life, she gathered information to pass onto pregnant friends and acquaintances. She stuck the information in a tupperware bin where it sat for two years until she became pregnant with her eldest son. Having saved the birth expo’s handouts, she was able to find a doula and midwife to assist her in her son’s home birth.

Porchia-Albert says it was a lovely experience. She says her family tells her she sang an ancient-sounding song throughout her labor, one women have been singing for years, which is, by the way, where the name of her organization comes from.

However lovely, Porchia-Albert was concerned about the many women who cannot afford a birthing experience like hers. Novice, New York City doulas can charge between $600 and $2,000 Porchia-Albert says.

So she put out a call on a listserv reporting she would host a doula service and a great group of women showed up she says.

Since then, ASDS has been working to lower the U.S. infant and maternal mortality rate through educating and empowering women in their birthing experiences.

Empowerment through knowledge

Wondering exactly what empowerment means to Porchia-Albert, I ask.

“Knowing the cause and effect of your actions, continuing your search for information and making logical decisions based on that information,” she answers.

Porchia-Albert says that because her doulas volunteer, some come and some go.

“But the volunteers do more than volunteering,” she says.

Strength in community

Women gather for doula training at Freebrook Spaces in Brooklyn, NY.

She calls it community building.

“We live in a society where you are expected to be an individual, but community is something that is needed as well,” she explains.

In an increasingly technological world, Porchia-Albert says online communities are great for sharing resources but adds that things like Facebook groups should be supplemented with women physically coming together.

ASDS tries to offer their doulas a stipend as certain births can occur over days. But even when they aren’t paid for their services, Porchia-Albert says some doulas use their own money to supply families with what they need.

In fact, Porchia-Albert recounts a time she stocked a family’s refrigerator and scrubbed their bathroom to prepare for a birth.

If that isn’t commitment, I don’t know what is.

“We made it work. They just needed a little help and a little guidance,” she says gently.

ASDS does more than a “little.”

Services provided

Doula services are always free for 12 to 19 year olds.

“No matter what,” Porchia-Albert concludes.

Beyond 19 years of age, doula fees are income based.

A variety of doula services including grief, pregnancy loss, labor and postpartum are offered through ASDS.

ASDS works to support teens’ health and well being.  The organization is not involved in any pregnancy prevention projects. Instead, they educate teens and women in general about their bodies so they can make informed choices about sexual activity and reproduction.

“It’s the responsibility of the women who do know to share that information,” Porchia-Albert explains.

Additionally, Porchia-Albert developed a labor and postpartum certification which primarily focuses on women of color but also advocates for reproductive justice in general. The certification is an eight week course offering in depth training on medical aspects of birth but also cultural competency for easier transition into actual practice.

Porchia-Albert explains, “sometimes we…do [doula] training and then think, now what?”

She says this certification really demonstrates how to go out and do the work.

Extending services

Porchia-Albert (left) poses with supporters at 2012 National Rally for Improving Birth NYC.

ASDS extends services to Ethiopian Women’s Prison. At the end of the year, they donate a barrel of leftover, previously donated clothes to the mothers and children born during their incarceration.

ASDS is also a member of the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood. Porchia-Albert says she read about its mission and knew she wanted to support their action to save the lives of women and children.

“Why do women of color and their babies continue to die even in our world of scientific advancement?” Porchia-Albert asks almost angrily. “It’s either a disconnect with the system or an environmental issue that causes us to be affected in ways that other moms aren’t.”

Continuing her mission to empower women and more importantly, save their lives, Porchia-Albert created Doulas for Change which hosts discussions and webinars that address cultural and spiritual beliefs in relation to birth.

It’s a “think-outside-of-the-box” doula training.

“Not every woman is the same and not every technique is going to work the same for each of us,” Porchia-Albert suggests so cogently.

She explains that racism affects what access colored women have to pregnancy, birthing and mothering resources.

She notes, “This is about all races coming together and just making it work.”

CLC training makes a difference

When asked about becoming certified as a Lactation Counselor, Porchia-Albert says her training allows her to offer even more guidance concerning breastfeeding’s importance.

“I’m able to really talk to women of color more in depth about what it means to breastfeed as opposed to allowing women to fall into the saturated, preconceived ideas of what the journey of motherhood entails,” she says.

Porchia-Albert explains this told journey like this: get pregnant, go into the hospital, listen to what they tell you, get excited about getting free stuff (like formula), bottle feed.

Porchia-Albert doesn’t have a particular aversion to artificial feeding, but she says that it shouldn’t be a first option. Her CLC training has allowed her to talk about the risks of formula feeding and help women realize the long term effects artificial feeding can have on herself and her baby she says.

CLC training has offered Porchia-Albert a certain consciousness concerning consumerism as well.

“Boy, everything is based on being a consumer,” she sighs. “As women, we have been blessed with being able to feed our babies without needing extra tools.”

Porchia-Albert agrees that there is a place for infant paraphernalia. For example, nipple shields might assist a baby born prematurely.

But for the new mom who walks into Target completely overwhelmed and spends hundreds of dollars on stuff just because it’s being marketed to her and she thinks she needs it…Porchia-Albert chuckles at this scenario.

She makes clear the distinction between the things we need and the things we think we need.

“All you need are breast pads so you don’t leak all over,” she jokes.

Consider the client

When working with clients, Porchia-Albert remembers to consider each unique situation.

“You can’t tell someone to buy a $300 pump when they don’t have the means to do so,” she says. “It isn’t their reality.”

Another important thing that she reminds us is that “it doesn’t cost anyone anything to ask a question.”

So I continue on my search for her knowledge.

Opposition and realism

Porchia-Albert (right) poses with supporters at Miles for Midwives event.

While ASDS has helped 107 women and counting since its founding, why do so many others oppose traditional birthing options?

Fear and lack of knowledge Porchia-Albert answers.

“Our vision of birth is what we see on TV,” she says.

We joke about the ridiculous portrayals on networks like TLC and agree that things like women not knowing they are pregnant is ridiculous. Because of this television eruption of water breaking, huffing and puffing, writhing and epidural-ing, Porchia-Albert has been asked if she’s in a cult and has been called things like Granola Mom because her experiences don’t resemble those on A Baby Story.

I wondered what her opinion is on the trend of elective c-sections and the occasional tummy tuck immediately after delivery.

“When people have the money to do things, they do it just because they have the money,” she responds. “They don’t understand what they’re putting their bodies through.”

However if women make conscious decisions and are willing to deal with the ramifications of an elective surgery, she supports that choice.

But she adds, “When you do that and it influences a community and they think they have to live up to a lifestyle and can’t; they are seen as less than. No one should be made to felt inadequate.”

Potential solutions

Porchia-Albert suggests obstetricians receive co-training with midwives so they better appreciate what the “natural” birth model looks like and so that they can make educated decisions about their patients.

Porchia-Albert tells me about a book called Sacred Woman by Queen Afua. It’s about women getting in tune with ourselves.

“Our wombs bring forth life so we should cherish them, love them, talk to them. Ask her: How are you doing today? If you’re good, I’m good!” Porchia-Albert playfully role plays.

I wonder, why shouldn’t we when men talk to their penises? Our life bearing organs deserve that kind of respect and attention too!

More community involvement

2012 National Rally for Improving Birth NYC.

On Labor Day, ASDS participated in the National Improving Birth Rally. Porchia-Albert says their turnout wasn’t bad.

“As long as we reached one person, we’ve met a goal,” she says. “It has a greater impact than doing nothing at all. People will criticize you; they can criticize until the sun comes up.”

But then she asks, “What are you doing to make a change? I’m tired of people talking. Just do it. Let’s brainstorm. Let’s make it work.”

ASDS somewhat recently participated in Miles for Midwives to support NYC metro area midwives.

“We try to support as much as possible, but sometimes it’s difficult when you’re entrenched in your own communities,” Porchia-Albert admits.

I reassure her that ASDS’ efforts are abundant.

Next year, ASDS plans to host a birth expo called “Take Back Birth.”

For more information about Ancient Song Doula Services visit its website or Facebook page.

Photos retrieved from ASDS Facebook page with permission from Chanel Porchia-Albert.

Breastfeeding support service empowers lactation professionals and mothers

Tiffany Taylor M.S., CCC-SLP, CLC
Co-Founder and Administrative Officer for Baby2Breast

Plagued is our society with quibbles damning nearly every parenting choice. We know them all too well which is why it’s so refreshing to encounter a system that empowers all women in their journeys as mothers.

Stephanie Levenston, M.S., CCC-SLP, CLC, CD
Baby2Breast Co-Founder, consultant to lactation support professionals.

It’s called Baby2Breast (B2B), an in-home breastfeeding support service founded about nine months ago by Tiffany Taylor MS, CCC-SLP, CLC and Stephanie Levenston MS, CCC-SLP, CLC, CD. Since its founding, B2B founders have made significant changes to the business’ platform based on feedback received from current and potential affiliates.

B2B is the first national organization to provide a platform that supports lactation professionals and mothers alike.

Taylor and Levenston were my first interviewees for Our Milky Way. I was so impressed with their enthusiasm and their readiness to answer any question I had. They were willing to share their knowledge in its entirety. They were patient with me (and my daughter in the background who grew increasingly irritated with me throughout the interview.)

Taylor and Levenston call B2B “business in a box.” They are equally as accommodating with their affiliates as they were with me.

Lactation professionals listed on the B2B directory receive access to the materials necessary to begin or expand a private practice.

Materials include:

  • marketing guides
  • photos and videos to use during in-home visits
  • handouts for mothers
  • template letters for physicians, hospitals and medical staff
  • invoices for services rendered
  • and a Breastfeeding Report

Provision of these materials allow lactation specialists to spend more time with moms and babies in need.

Taylor says their model quells concerns professionals might have about starting or expanding a private practice because she and Levenston take the prep work and research out of running a business.

A personalized business venture

Taylor and Levenston explain that B2B affiliates can personalize their business as desired, regulating their ideal client flow.

Affiliates include the following information on the directory:

  • Name
  • Business name
  • Contact information
  • Rate for service
  • Typical response time to a visit request
  • Location for services

Payment is collected at the time of service and affiliates retain 100 percent of the fee.

“Our affiliates are what makes B2B successful and we have a fantastic group of women who are highly committed to making a positive impact on our country’s breastfeeding rates and on the individual journeys of the mothers with whom they work,” Levenston says.

All affiliates are required to offer in-home services.

B2B founders feel strongly that the most effective environment for the assessment of current skills and the carryover of new skills is in a mother’s most natural environment.

“There are tremendous amounts of research indicating that the most reliable and comfortable environment in which to provide any intervention service is in the client’s home,” Levenston states.

Empowering moms

Of B2B’s many services, affiliates, with the client’s permission, collaborate and correspond with other medical professionals such as OB/GYNs, midwives and pediatricians to ensure consistent support to mom and baby.

Taylor and Levenston say that when the mother is made the focus of the care model, it builds confidence in her own experience. In other words, the goal is for mothers to not become dependent upon an affiliate. Instead, women become empowered through working with the specialists.

The least invasive way to achieve the end result will always be the best result, they add.

Reviving the field

Both founders agree that this type of platform has been needed for years.

“Often we would meet someone long after their breastfeeding journey has ended and their common phrase was: ‘where were you when I needed breastfeeding help?’” Levenston comments.

The duo, both with speech language pathology backgrounds specializing in infant feeding disorders, took this as an opportunity long in the making to offer a platform which is easy to access for both mothers and lactation support professionals seeking to connect with them in an appropriate, timely and convenient manner.

If B2B specialists feel technologically competent, intervention through Skype is offered. Taylor and Levenston claim some clients prefer the virtual experience and agree it adds another level of timeliness.

Come one, come all

B2B accepts a variety of credentials to increase its outreach to moms and babies.

“Certainly there are some individuals that may feel threatened or opposed to our perspective that a number of credentials are qualified to provide lactation support to breastfeeding dyads,” Levenston says.

“But we do not view others’ perspective as a difficulty; rather we see it as a call to action to reach out in sisterhood to the many women who are committed to making a difference in the field of lactation support,” she continues.

“The true difficulty is experienced by the mother who needs support but does not know where to find it or cannot locate someone in her immediate area to provide her with the option of a home visit in a time sensitive manner,” Levenston concludes.

Taylor and Levenston both have a number of impressive titles to claim but Levenston says her favorite training has been the CLC course through Healthy Children Project’s Center for Breastfeeding.

“The women they send to do the training are funny and witty,” she says. “The information is so dense but they kept us engaged and laughing. That is a gift and a talent not everyone has.”

The transition from training to actual implementation in practice was natural and easy, the duo says in accordance. Because CLC training focuses on providing evidence based practice, current information and counseling and listening skills to assist mothers in their feeding goals, these ideals fell into direct alignment with what B2B founders believe as professionals.

“We ultimately believe it is a woman’s choice to determine what is right for her and her baby,” Levenston says. “We believe that the majority of women will opt to breastfeed if they are provided with current, unbiased information regarding the benefits of breastfeeding and the risks involved in formula feeding and if they know they will have the support they need when they encounter a challenge.”

For the future

The directory also includes providers qualified for complex case consultations like families dealing with prematurity, genetic disorders, medical issues and physiological feeding challenges like cleft lip and/or palate, tongue tie, etc. The hope is that mothers will have an easier time finding the right fit for their specific needs through the directory.

Lactation support professionals interested in learning more about listing their services on the Baby2Breast directory or referring prospective clients can learn more at

Like Baby2Breast on Facebook.

Lactation Counselors declare their love

Chelton (right) poses with Jana and Ty Phillips at a Natural Healing Families Breastfeeding Sharing and Info Group she facilitates.

In beautifully written verse, Hearthside Maternity Services’ creator Angelique Chelton, CLC, CBE, SBD declares her love for all women who offer breastfeeding support to women in need in a recent post on Angie’s Blog.

She recounts her experiences as a somewhat new lactation professional and thanks others for sharing their passion and knowledge. She denounces division between lactation care workers and calls for unity within the field. Chelton expresses her hope for eventual extinction of the current demand for lactation professionals and shares Healthy Children Project’s Renewed Call for  Collaboration.

“I hope to see a world where the wisdom about breastfeeding reverts to those to whom it has always belonged- the wisdom of breastfeeding lies in breastfeeding mothers,” she writes.

Ms. Chelton, in response to your powerful, inspiring post and critical services you offer, I hereby declare my love for you. As you have, I extend my gratitude to lactation professionals no matter what title(s) they claim.

Unity and respect requests

Chelton has been assisting breastfeeding dyads for a little over 18 months. She lightheartedly calls herself a newbie. Even so, all of her clients have achieved their breastfeeding goals.

She says that the most difficult part of her job is being misunderstood and/or misrepresented by other professionals.

“In the few years Hearthside has been open for business, I’ve managed to ruffle some feathers in several nests,” Chelton says.

She says asking the hard questions, listening, thinking critically and speaking truth gently isn’t always the easy road to take, but it’s the right one and it’s the one she chooses to navigate.

“Professional integrity, including respecting the work of others in the same field, is a vital thing,” Chelton says.  

Hunger for knowledge

While training as a doula, Chelton completed an internet-based breastfeeding course but was eager to learn more.

“I saw CLC training with Healthy Children as a way to expand my professional services,” she says.

She adds that nursing her children was tremendously important to her and she saw expanding her knowledge as a way to honor her personal breastfeeding relationships.

Chelton’s CLC training also provides her insight on disparities within our healthcare system.

“Wealthy people are able to afford access to services like CLCs which can be essential to their breastfeeding success,” she explains. “I am thrilled that the Affordable Care Act now makes CLC services accessible to more mothers. I hope to see insurance coverage of Lactation Care Professionals expanded so everyone, included the least advantaged in the U.S., can have easy access to assistance when needed.”

Tragedy and triumph

Hearthside Maternity Services launched in 2009 in Montgomery County, Pa. Clients have access to lactation services including support groups and counseling, pregnancy and breastfeeding education opportunities and bereavement doula services.

While Chelton’s passion encompasses “the entire childbearing cycle,” there’s one aspect of her work that is especially close to her heart: her connection to Stillbirthday, an organization that serves families suffering pregnancy loss and parents who receive difficult and/or fatal diagnoses prior to delivery. Chelton serves as Stillbirthday Director of Education & Training and as a birth/bereavement doula.

I learned that Chelton suffered two miscarriages prior to the birth of her son Alex and daughter Fae. I wondered if these raw, unimaginable experiences help her bereavement services or make them more difficult. The following is her response:

Having had two devastating experiences with pregnancy loss deepened my well of empathy for women suffering through perinatal bereavement. After carefully examining my healing journey and after training to offer professional perinatal bereavement services, I am able to allow the flow of healing energy to go from me into my clients. When I am in need of a recharge, I have a network of friends and colleagues who are able to pour back into me.
I find that doulas who have their own pregnancy loss history, are in a unique position to comfort a bereaved family. I don’t believe one must have experienced a pregnancy loss to comfort others, but there are experiences that are so common to bereavement, they almost become an unspoken language. We can never sit in another’s soul and mind to understand exactly what they are feeling, but there is absolutely a resonance that happens between a person who is hurting and one who has hurt in that same way.  

Despite the tragedies Chelton sometimes confronts, she finds purpose in families’ confidence to handle difficulty and their ultimate success stories.

Recently, Chelton created a series of webinars covering a variety of topics for parents, birth workers and lactation professionals. January through March selections are currently open for registration.

Visit Hearthside Maternity Services on Facebook for more information.

Uncovering flavors in breast milk: Dr. Julie Mennella’s flavor learning research and implications

In case you haven’t heard, artificial baby milk increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, obesity and certain kinds of cancer. Formula-fed children are also at risk for contracting a long list of illnesses that might otherwise be squashed by immunities in breast milk. Among the many differences between artificial baby milk and breast milk, there is one big difference that is often overlooked: flavor.

In my Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC) training, I remember learning that children were likely to nurse longer if their mothers had recently consumed garlic. Breast milk never ceases to amaze me; especially when it’s garlic-flavored!

As a member and director emeritus of the Monell Science Apprenticeship Program, a non-profit institute in Philadelphia, Dr. Julie Mennella has been conducting flavor learning research for more than two decades.

Dr. Mennella’s research “focuses on the development of food and flavor preferences in humans and the effects of alcohol and tobacco on women’s health and infant development.”  (Retrieved from

“Every baby is living in their own sensory world when they are breastfed,” Dr. Mennella says. “It’s unique food that that mom has made for that baby.”

Differently, artificial baby milk although available in many varieties, presents static flavor.

“That constant flavor doesn’t reflect the culture they will grow up in,” Dr. Mennella says of formula-fed children.

Greater implications 

Unfamiliarity with the flavors of one’s culture and consequential unacceptance of certain foods has considerable implications.

As Dr. Mennella and Dr. Gary K. Beauchamp put it in their 2011 article entitled Flavor Perception in Human Infants: Development and Functional Significance, “both before and after birth, humans are exposed to a bewildering variety of flavors that influence subsequent liking and choice.”

Their research suggests that taste and olfactory systems operate in utero within the amniotic fluid and that breast milk serves as a sort of flavor bridge to the time of weaning.

Because the food we consume directly impacts our health, it is important to note that an infant who develops a “taste” for salty, sweet and fatty foods over fruits and vegetables will have a greater risk for diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and some cancers according to Mennella’s and Beauchamp’s Flavor Perception in Human Infants article.

Dr. Mennella explains that the breastfed baby exposed to an abundance of flavors is at an advantage once weaned.

“What moms eat are typically what babies end up eating,” Dr. Mennella says. She highlights the importance of a varied diet for pregnant and lactating women.

A breastfed baby experiences textural variations such as viscosity and mouth coating as well so “breastfeeding provides an even richer variation in oral sensory stimulation” as stated in Flavor Perception in Human Infants.

Dr. Mennella says formula companies are only able to add flavoring to follow-on formulas at which point she says it is too late to stimulate flavor detection.

Benefits a plenty

Flavor learning research does not only point to future variation in diets. In The chemical senses and the development of flavor preferences in humans published in Hale and Hartmann’s Textbook of Human Lactation, Dr. Mennella cites the research of Frederick D. Provenza which shows that “learned food preferences are transmitted from [mammalian] mothers to their offspring, resulting in greater biodiversity.”

Provenza’s research also suggests that flavors transmitted through breast milk allow mammalian offspring to know what food is safe to eat through familiar flavoring once weaned.

More to discover, more to learn

Recently, Dr. Mennella has become interested in growth differences between breastfed and formula-fed infants.

“I’m shocked at how little we really do know,” she says.

Healthy Children Project’s upcoming 17th Annual Conference in Orlando will be an opportune time for Dr. Mennella to summarize some of the findings of basic flavor learning research and present some unanswered questions.

“How do we learn from basic biology to educate both mom and health professionals about the mystery of what’s happening early in life?” she asks. “We’re beginning to have evidence that it’s setting the stage for many things to come.”

Mennella, J. A. (2007). The chemical senses and the development of flavor preferences in humans. In P.E.Hartmann & T. Hale (Eds.), Textbook on Human Lactation (pp. 403-414). Texas: Hale Publishing.

Beauchamp, Gary K., and Julie A. Mennella. “Flavor Perception in Human Infants: Development and Functional Significance .” Digestion . (2011): 1-5.