Keeper of Light: Tina Cardarelli awarded for breastfeeding research


By Anna Skinner

When Tina Cardarelli became one of eight women to receive the Torchbearer Award, she didn’t think much of it. But the more she researched it, she realized it was a bigger deal than she originally believed.

Cardarelli was recognized for her nationwide work on breastfeeding education. In addition to the Torchbearer Award, she also received the Keeper of Light Award through the Indiana Commission for Women.

“It’s a little mind-boggling to me,” the Westfield resident said. “When you do work, you do what you’re passionate about, and you don’t know if anybody really knows if you’re doing that work because it matters to you. My area is maternal and child health, and we have a very bad infant mortality problem in Indiana.”

Cardarelli is a founding member of the Michigan Breastfeeding Network and started her own breastfeeding consulting firm to advise state health departments. She works with hospitals to improve maternity care practices.

Cardarelli was originally a teacher but changed directions to work as a nutritionist and breastfeeding coordinator to council pregnant women on nutrition. The more she worked with women who were emotional about the varying opinions on breastfeeding, she learned that many women were not aware of the benefits.

“I felt that no one was advocating for women. They were being trivialized around that issue, and no one was speaking about it, either,” she said. “All of my maternal child health nutrition focused on breastfeeding, and women started coming from all over the place to get advice from me.”

Cardarelli has received a variety of awards for her work, and she still doesn’t understand why. However, those who nominate her claim she is changing public health in Indiana.

“What’s really cool is I do a lot of speaking around the country about the work we are doing in Indiana. I think that’s cool to teach some of the lessons learned here,” she said. “The style of my work is very different. I like talking at events and meeting people from hospitals and talking about the real issues. I have a different style of creating change.

“It’s a big deal the work we are doing to improve hospital practices in our state,” she added. “Every buzz word in public health and Indiana is we have a problem with infant mortality. The most frustrating thing of my career is the fact that people have not connected the dots between infant mortality and maternity care practice. Breastfed babies are 56 percent less likely to get SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.) Why am I getting an award for talking about what everybody should know?”

Eight women received the Torchbearer Award, and out of the eight Cardarelli was selected as the Keeper of Light, awarded to only one Indiana woman a year.

Seven years ago, Cardarelli began a summit in Hamilton County as a conference for the decision-makers in hospitals to learn about breastfeeding. This month, the summit was held at Ritz Charles in Carmel.

“I have to be honest, I’m advocating for moms and babies,” Cardarelli said. “I think a lot of it has to do with the messaging that isn’t getting out there in an applicable way for moms and babies and families. Some communities know a lot about stuff, and others don’t.”

Enabling optimal breastfeeding would prevent

  • 2,619 maternal deaths a year
  • 721 child deaths a year
  • 5,023 breast cancer cases
  • 12,320 Type II diabetes cases
  • 35,982 hypertension cases
  • 8,487 heart attacks
  • 45,298 child obesity cases

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