Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute (CGBI)

CGBI: Breastfeeding Exclusive Winter 2019 - James McKenna

Retirement Celebration of Professor James McKenna

Dr. Tully at James McKenna retirement celebration

Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute’s Dr. Kristin Tully was honored to speak as a part of the retirement celebration of her undergraduate mentor, Professor James McKenna. In November 2018, Kristin joined colleagues Drs. Katie Hinde, Wenda Trevathan, and Lee Getter at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana for reflection on the deeply meaningful ways in which Prof. McKenna has shaped the field of maternal and infant health and themselves.


Kristin first learned about Prof. McKenna not for his pioneering research on mother-infant nighttime interactions, but because of his reputation as an outstanding teacher. She subsequently majored in Honors Anthropology at Notre Dame alongside a major in Economics and she completed two summer fellowships in McKenna’s Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory. Meaningful undergraduate research opportunities are rare, yet the value cannot be overstated. Collecting and coding overnight videos of dyads as part of NIH funded research led Kristin to present at a national conference as an undergraduate and inspired the passion and skillset for graduate work with Professor of Anthropology Helen Ball – who created the Durham University Infancy and Sleep Centre in England based on McKenna’s seminal work.

Professor McKenna taught us to broaden our perspectives. Stepping back and considering what is means to be human – with our variation, vulnerability, and resilience —  is important for protecting and promoting practices that are the most humane. Helpful tools include cross-cultural, cross-species, evolutionary, and historical investigation as well as understanding development in context. This process is useful for discovering gaps between current cultures of health and what might be optimal support, Positively viewing a caregiver as an infant’s world as enormous implications and it’s “what we fight for.”

Shifting narratives is challenging, but Professor McKenna has done that internationally with the concept of breastsleeping. Kristin and the other guests enjoyed an engaging panel discussion with current Notre Dame graduate students on breastfeeding and health policy. Our collective voice is being heard and, although there remains a lot of opportunity for establishing enabling environments, families are being better served.

Drs. Wenda Trevathan, Katie Hinde, Lee Getter, James McKenna, and Kristin Tully at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana