Food and Behaviour Research

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Human milk oligosaccharide 2'-fucosyllactose links feedings at 1 month to cognitive development at 24 months in infants of normal and overweight mothers

Berger PK, Plows JF, Jones RB, Alderete TL, Yonemitsu C, Poulsen M, Ryoo JH, Peterson BS, Bode L, Goran MI (2020) PLoS One.  2020 Feb;15(2): e0228323. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0228323. eCollection 2020. 

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Infant cognitive development is influenced by maternal factors that range from obesity to early feeding and breast milk composition. Animal studies suggest a role for human milk oligosaccharide (HMO), 2'-fucosyllactose (2'FL), on learning and memory, yet no human studies have examined its impact on infant cognitive development relative to other HMOs and maternal factors.


To determine the impact of 2'FL from breast milk feeding on infant cognitive development at 24 months of age relative to maternal obesity and breast milk feeding frequency.


Hispanic mother-infant pairs (N = 50) were recruited across the spectrum of pre-pregnancy BMI. Breast milk was collected at 1 and 6 months, and feedings/day were reported. Nineteen HMOs were analyzed using high-performance liquid chromatography, with initial interest in 2'FL. Infant cognitive development score was assessed with the Bayley-III Scale at 24 months. Linear regressions were used for prediction, and bootstrapping to determine mediation by 2'FL.


Maternal pre-pregnancy BMI was not related to feedings/day or HMOs, but predicted poorer infant cognitive development (β = -0.31, P = 0.03). Feedings/day (β = 0.34) and 2'FL (β = 0.59) at 1 month predicted better infant cognitive development (both P≤ 0.01). The association of feedings/day with infant cognitive development was no longer significant after further adjustment for 2'FL (estimated mediation effect = 0.13, P = 0.04). There were no associations of feedings/day and 2'FL at 6 months with infant cognitive development.


Our findings suggest that maternal factors influence infant cognitive development through multiple means. Though maternal obesity may be a separate negative influence, greater frequency of breast milk feeding at 1 month contributed to infant cognitive development through greater exposure to 2'FL relative to other HMOs. The influence of 2'FL was not significant at 6 months, indicating that early exposure to 2'FL may be a critical temporal window for positively influencing infant cognitive development.


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