The human brain grows rapidly and differentiates extensively during the late fetal period and the first 3 postnatal years, moving from a relatively undifferentiated and pluripotent organ to a highly specified and organized one. The outcome of this developmental maturation is highly dependent on a sequence of environmental exposures, including diet that deeply influences the ultimate plasticity of the adult brain.
A growing body of research shows that several nutrients shape the brain and affect its function during development with profound and long-lasting effects later in life. In our research, we explore the roles that various human milk nutrients play during the myelination process and the later outcome this process has on behavior and cognition.
Human milk contains a unique composition of bioactive components and is generally considered the gold standard for infant nutrition. Ongoing research in the area of pediatric nutrition seeks to identify components of human milk that may confer physiological benefits to the neonate and may be added to the infant formula matrix.
One such class of dietary components that currently differ in concentration between human milk and infant formula are oligosaccharides (OS).
In our research, we investigate the effect of sialic-acid on neurodevelopment, particularly on myelin and synapse formation as well as neural transmission. We further aim to identify clinically relevant doses at which sialic-acid containing milk might support neurodevelopment.
During the first years of life, child development is particularly influenced by nutrition, parenting, and family dynamics. In addition, long-term associations of early child nutrition, and warm and sensitive parenting behavior with the cognitive and socio-emotional development of adolescents have been established. However, the developmental trajectories are rather unknown and the interaction of nutrition and parenting behavior has rarely been investigated. In particular, there is no research examining associations of daily feeding experiences in early age with fluctuations in daily parenting behavior or long-term parenting – and whether such associations differ for mothers and for fathers.
Therefore, in a prospective birth cohort study child development, nutrition, and maternal and paternal parenting behavior will be assessed at different time points (3, 6, 12, 24 months). These longitudinal assessments will be supported by a continuous online investigation of child development and biweekly evening questionnaires. Thereby, multiple time scales are accounted for (days, months, years) to track different developmental trajectories.