Liliana Prado Nava, R.D., works with pregnant women, new mothers, infants and toddlers every day. She gives them training and resources to feed themselves and their babies so everyone can live a healthy life.

When she started her career as a registered dietician and breastfeeding counselor 21 years ago, Prado Nava quickly learned that forging those intimate partnerships helped young families get stronger. Her passion for the work was so great that her original dream of becoming a pharmacist simply vanished.

Prado Nava devoted her professional life instead to “nourish, educate, support and empower families in building a healthy future.” That led to her current work as the Livingston site manager of the Merced County Community Action Agency (MCCAA) Special Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP) for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

It was the right choice for Prado Nava, who in May received the Phyllis A. Bramson Advocacy Award at the California WIC Association’s (CWA) annual conference, an honor that goes to the biggest champions of the program that supports new mothers and their children.

“It was totally unexpected,” the Merced College and UC Davis graduate said of hearing her name called. The award comes with a cash scholarship that will allow her to participate in future state and national WIC conferences.

Prado Nava made a name for herself as a member of the CWA training committee, and also now serves as a WIC Ambassador to the CWA Board. She has done even more work to help the Livingston community by collaborating with faith-based organizations to push for immigration reform and to advocate for health insurance for undocumented people.

“With WIC, you’re able to reach so many people,” she said. 

Prado Nava learned firsthand how WIC can set children up for healthy lives because her mother received WIC when her three youngest siblings were babies.

“We’d go to the appointments, and I would hear all of the information my mom was receiving, and then see her use it and see how helpful it was to her,” she said. “You know sometimes when you speak Spanish, you might not get a lot of time with a doctor. It helps when you get information in your primary language, and with WIC, she got the information she needed. It helped us.”

Fast-forward to her first days at Merced College. After taking a nutrition course with longtime Professor Michelle Pecchenino, Prado Nava learned what registered dietitians do. It helped her see the value in working to prevent diseases rather than treating them.

Prado Nava loves hearing stories of her client families who start to improve after implementing one of her suggestions.

“Just hearing how impactful my idea was,” she said. “It may not seem like a big deal, but it made a big difference for them. Just knowing they trust the information they received from us keeps me motivated.”

Just a few months ago, Prado Nava was working with a mother who was struggling with her own health and that of her newborn baby, who had a problem digesting their food. Mom couldn’t breastfeed. Baby couldn’t keep any breast milk down anyway. 

They had to try formulas. It was the only option. It took several months of trying different types. Once they found the right one, the baby started improving quickly.

Prado Nava feels like she is exactly where she needs to be as a professional.

“It is rewarding, but the process in between starting and succeeding can get frustrating,” she said. “The parents and I are trying to connect with doctors and helping moms figure out how to talk to them and what questions they need to ask. That’s a big part of my job—coaching mothers how to ask questions.”

Besides nutritional counseling, Prado Nava and her colleagues connect families to other programs that provide food and housing assistance, help applying for insurance, and lend a hand navigating the health system. 

“Having that social network does help the whole family,” Prado Nava said. 

She knows how important it is for new mothers to ask for help.

“New moms have to do a lot and so many things happen in those first few weeks,” Prado Nava said. “Babies don’t grow on their own. It does take a village to raise a child. Knowing who can give you support is really important.”