Previous studies connecting infant cognition to maternal breast milk composition have identified a human milk oligosaccharide (HMO), 2’-fucosyllactose (2’FL), as a potential influence on the cognitive abilities of infants. Researchers aimed to determine the influence of 2’FL on the cognitive development in relation to maternal obesity, with results published in PLoS One.

The researchers studied 50 mother-infant pairs with mothers who self-identified as Hispanic, were over age 18 at delivery, gave birth to a healthy singleton newborn, and intended to breastfeed for 6 months postpartum. Each pair completed 3 visits, at 1 month, 6 months, and 24 months postpartum. During the 1- and 6-month visits, mothers were asked about breastfeeding practices and their breast milk was collected and analyzed, with HMOs isolated and labeled. At the 24-month visit, the Bayley Scales of Infant Development were used to measure cognitive, language, and motor skills of the infants.  Additional analyses were conducted with maternal prepregnancy BMI in place of feeding frequency to test that additional variable.

Results indicated that there was a correlation between prepregnancy BMI and lower infant cognitive scores, independent of feeding frequency and HMOs. Separately, feeding frequency at 1 month predicted higher infant cognitive scores and greater 2’FL levels. However, the same was not true at the 6-month marker. Rather, other HMOs, lacto-N-hexaose and fucosyl-lacto-N-hexaose, predicted higher cognitive scores at that time. Overall, greater frequency of feedings at 1 month yielded results that carried through the 24-month mark. Additionally, the finding that prepregnancy obesity predicts lower cognitive development scores at 24 months confirmed the conclusions drawn from prior studies.

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The study was limited by the use of mediation models rather than a randomized design, as well as by the relatively small sample size and homogeneity of the study cohort. However, the researchers contend that the findings of feeding frequency and HMO 2’FL levels informing infant cognitive development are significant in understanding how maternal factors affect cognitive development in infants.


Berger PK, Plows JF, Jones RB, Alderete TL, Yonemitsu C, Poulsen M, et al. (2020) Human milk oligosaccharide 2’-fucosyllactose links feedings at 1 month to cognitive development at 24 months in infants of normal and overweight mothers. PLoS ONE 15(2): e0228323.