Pregnancy and early infancy are periods of rapid change for mother and infant. Nutrition plays a key role in optimizing maternal outcomes of pregnancy and in ensuring healthy growth and development for infants in the short and long term. Our group's overall goal is to optimize nutrition during these vulnerable periods of pregnancy and infancy by carrying out observational and interventional research in populations of pregnant women and infants, including those born preterm. We aim to (1) understand the metabolic dysregulation associated with maternal obesity and devise strategies to improve outcomes of these high-risk pregnancies and (2) determine the impact of infant growth patterns and early nutrition (including breastfeeding) on health and developmental outcomes later in life.
Mandy Brown Belfort, MD, MPH and Sarbattama Sen, MD are Co-Directors of the program. In their clinical work as neonatologists, they provide care for the smallest and sickest infants and their families during their time in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit. In their research, they are passionate about understanding the role of nutrition in maternal and infant health and devising strategies to deliver optimal nutrition during these time periods.
Dr. Sen conducts both epidemiologic and translational studies to understand the characteristics of the in utero metabolic environment of women who enter pregnancy at a higher than optimal weight. She is particularly focused on the effects of inflammation and oxidative stress on fetal and infant growth and development, breastfeeding success, and breast milk composition. She is working to devise new supplementation strategies to ameliorate metabolic imbalances, with the overall goal of improving outcomes for mothers and babies.
Dr. Belfort uses longitudinal data from various sources to determine the connections between growth patterns in infancy, breastfeeding and breast milk intake, and development and health later in childhood, specifically cognitive function and obesity. Her work to define the relationships among these factors will lead to improved strategies for the nutritional care of infants, with an emphasis on small preterm infants who are nutritionally vulnerable and prone to health and developmental sequelae that persist into childhood.
Together with a team of research associates and trainees, as well as a network of collaborators within and outside Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Drs. Belfort and Sen have the long-term mission of devising evidence-based nutritional strategies in pregnancy and infancy to optimize the short- and long-term health of mothers and infants.