Jess Fedenia’s, CLC light bulb moment: “Life is full of ands instead of either ors.”

[Photo by Andrea Piacquadio]
We consider ourselves life-long learners here at Healthy Children Project. Sometimes learning occurs gradually, and sometimes there are the ‘light bulb’ moments.

We put a call out to our followers to share “Aha!” moments with us. Maybe it was a myth busted during the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC) or maybe it happened during a visit with a dyad.

We also called for stories about your babies’ and children’s ‘light bulb’ moments. When have you seen your little ones’ faces light up in discovery and understanding?

The call for stories is still open! Please send your reflections to info@ourmilkyway.org with “Light Bulb” in the subject line.


This is my light bulb moment.


That funny little mind blown emoji has peppered many of my interactions. I find it perfectly depicts my reactions to and revelations from the massive matrix of varying perceptions of reality that the internet has offered us. Before emojis were a staple in my vernacular though, I remember a light bulb moment that illuminated something in and around me and helped shape my perception of reality and identity.  

In Chantal Molnar’s 2013 piece Breastfeeding and Feminism she writes:

“Breastfeeding refutes the cultural bent that breast’s primary function is as sex objects. America has an uneasy relationship with breastfeeding and has a hard time facing the duality inherent in breast’s function. Sex versus nurture, or sex and nurture? We don’t seem to have any problem with the duality of our mouths, which can be for sex and for eating. We do not make people cover their heads with a blanket when they are eating in public simply because the mouth is frequently used sexually.”

When I first read this, my daughter was two and breastfeeding, and I was pregnant with my second daughter. Though I wanted to embrace an attitude that I had no qualms about breastfeeding in public, I was always truly a bit uneasy about the threat of being harrassed for doing so. But Molnar’s piece gave me the brilliant analogy I needed to defend myself in the case that I was approached by some dismayed onlooker (which never actually happened in all the years I breastfed three children.) 

That handful of sentences also ignited a recognition of the multi-dimension within me. Interestingly, while Molnar pinpoints American culture’s fixation on the sexual breast, I had a self-perception confined to “Milk Maker”. Though I felt the power of this identity and an appreciation of the magic of its intricate, complex and beautiful function, I failed to see myself as sexy after becoming a mother. Molnar’s words invited me to reconsider how I viewed myself. 

Maybe most importantly, I like to think that this recognition of the multiplicity within myself  has helped me to be more aware and accepting of the diversity and complexities outside of myself. Molnar’s piece revealed to me that life is full of ands instead of either ors.   



The elegant and complex systems of flavor and nutritional programming

— This post is part of our “Where are they now?” series where we catch up with some of our very first Our Milky Way interviewees from over a decade ago! — 

“The societal and clinical impact of promoting sustainable food habits is significant, since what a child eats determines in part what the child becomes. (Mennella, et al, 2020, p. 291)

 

The pop of poppy seeds in aloo posto, cough-inducing spice in stir-fried lotus root with chili peppers, the meaty texture of a bowl of Cuban black beans. 

The dishes we crave tell stories. 

“Our food preferences have meaning,” Julie Mennella, PhD begins. “They’re more than just a source of calories. Food preferences provide families with identity.”

[Rough Translation’s Tasting at a Distance and Forgotten Foods of NYC’s Appetite for Home — Bitter-Sweet Memories of Learning to Cook & Eat in America both present beautiful audio embodying these connections.]

Elegant and complex learning systems 

The multidimensional interactions we have with food begin with our mothers. A fetus is passively exposed to the flavors of the biological mother’s diet through amniotic fluid, and the infant goes on to interact with these flavors through human milk. Mennella and her colleagues have called this “intimate bidirectional chemosensory communication.” (Mennella, et al, 2023)

In this complex communication, “diet and xenobiotic exposures of the lactating parent, due to lifestyle choices or necessitated by medical treatments, affect not only milk production and milk composition but also the infant’s biological responses, either beneficially or adversely,” the authors continue. “Developing alongside the chemosensory signaling is the seeding and maturation of the infant microbiome, which transfers and exchanges with that of the parent and of the milk, forming additional bidirectional linkages.” (Mennella, et al, 2023

Infant formulas, although available in many varieties, do not foster this elegant exchange and where developing food preferences are concerned, present a static flavor.

“That constant flavor doesn’t reflect the culture [a child] will grow up in,” Mennella comments.  

The same goes for infants fed jarred and pouched baby foods (what we’ve referred to as “the packet apocalypse” where the convenience of “ready-to-feed-super- glop” has largely replaced the art of dining and sharing meals.) The explosion of the baby food industry means parents often don’t feed their children what they themselves eat. Families can feed their babies canned peas, but never eat a pea themselves, Mennella points out. 

Mennella’s research has always been interested in flavor and nutritional programming in humans and the development of food preferences, but over the last decade, it has diversified to ask questions about the taste of pediatric medicines from a personalized medicine perspective, determinants of sweet and salt preferences during childhood, the development of psychophysical methods to study olfaction, taste and chemesthesis across the lifespan, biomarkers for dietary intake across the lifespan, and reproductive state effects on dietary intake and weight loss in women. [Retrieved from: Monell Center

Collective, family- focused approach

Mennella summarizes a few key points from her work. 

“Children live in different sensory worlds,” she says. ”They are really sensitive to the current food environment.” 

And like she and her colleagues have written, the food environment rich in added sugar and salt that caters to preferred human taste, provides challenges for all of us. 

“Fortunately, our biology is not necessarily our destiny. The plasticity of the chemical senses interacts with experience with foods to modify our preferences, producing an interface between our biology and our culture, our past and our present.” (Mennella, et al, 2020, p. 291

In order to influence our destiny, Mennella says that the strategy can never be for the child alone. She suggests there be more attention paid to the family as a whole in order for healthy behaviors to be sustainable. 

She nods to the success of peer counseling programs and recommends bolstering these opportunities for families to interact and learn from one another. She says she envisions primary care taking on a community approach to provide not only a forum for education but also opportunities for interaction between families.  

Where science and policy meet 

Mennella recognizes that ultra-processed, convenience foods are palatable and often inexpensive and deems this a “much bigger issue.” 

Her research has guided national and global health initiatives like the USDA and HHS Pregnancy and Birth to 24 Months (P/B-24) Project, the Breastmilk Ecology and the Genesis of Infant Nutrition (BEGIN) Project, and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity. [WHO recently released its new guideline for complementary feeding of infants and young children 6-23 months of age. Read about it here.]  

As science evolves– where the picture gradually becomes more crisp and for every one question asked, fifty more arise– policies and practice must reflect and catch up to the robust body of evidence in order to best support child and family health.  

Read our 2012 coverage with Dr. Mennella here



Breastfeeding is ours. Breastfeeding belongs to us.

–This post is part of our 10-year anniversary series “Breastfeeding is…” When we initially curated this series, we planned for 10 weeks, but breastfeeding is so many things that we just couldn’t fit it all in, which means we have two bonus weeks in our anniversary series.–

Breastfeeding is ours. Breastfeeding belongs to us.

Nicole Starr Photography Originally featured on Our Milky Way in ‘ Non-profit Julia’s Way proves babies with Down syndrome can breastfeed’

For decades, the 55 billion dollar formula milk industry has positioned itself as an ally to parents. 

Through conniving tactics, like the distortion of science to legitimize their claims, the systematic targeting of health professionals to promote their products, and the undermining of parents’ confidence in breastfeeding, the industry impacts the survival, health and development of children and mothers, disrupts truthful information– an essential human right as noted by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, disregards the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, and exploits the aspirations, vulnerabilities and fears at the birth and early years of our children solely for commercial gain. (WHO/UNICEF, 2022, p. x) [More at WHO report exposes formula milk marketing, offers steps forward

Far before the advent of formula milks and their subsequent marketing campaigns, breastfeeding sustained the human species. When breastfeeding wasn’t possible, wet nursing was the primary alternative feeding option. [Stevens, et al 2009

For generations, cultures across the globe have honored breastfeeding as a central part of their identities, and now they’re reclaiming these traditions after being challenged by the formula milk industry and other forces.

Photo by Mehmet Turgut Kirkgoz : https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-woman-breastfeeding-her-son-12359528/

HealthConnect One’s program manager Brenda Reyes, RN, CLC describes that reclamation of Latino/Hispanic birth and breastfeeding traditions in Reclaiming Latino/Hispanic birth and breastfeeding traditions for instance. 

In It’s Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Week: “Reclaiming Our Tradition”, To-Wen Tseng covers just what the title suggests. 

Navajo Breastfeeding Coalition/Dine Doula Collective, Amanda Singer, CLC discusses the revitalization of Indigenous breastfeeding in Honoring Indigenous Milk Medicine Week: “Nourishing Our Futures”

Hispanic Health Council’s Breastfeeding Heritage and Pride (BHP) Program manager and lactation consultant Cody Cuni, IBCLC, BS reminds us in Hispanic Health Council’s Breastfeeding Heritage and Pride (BHP) Program heals, empowers and celebrates through peer counseling model that breastfeeding has always belonged to the people.

Photo by willsantt: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-breastfeeding-her-toddler-under-the-tree-2714618/

Cuni offers commentary on her and her colleague’s responsibility to help facilitate breastfeeding without capitalizing, claiming and dominating. She sees her role as an empowerer. 

Without diminishing the need for larger structural supports, let us also remember and celebrate the innate power we hold as individuals who can nourish and nurture our young and ourselves through breastfeeding. 

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Our 10-year anniversary giveaway has ended. Thank you to everyone who participated!