Research on new mothers links nature, nurture, early brain development

early brain development

Brittany Howell, assistant professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, studies how maternal characteristics and behavior impact brain development in infants. Howell will start recruiting new mothers to participate in her lab’s research studies in 2020. Photo by Clayton Metz for Virginia Tech

Studies have suggested that when expecting and new mothers are stressed, hormonal changes not only impact the mother’s health, but also affect the baby’s development.

But unpacking these reports can be complicated.

In addition to the genetic traits inherited from the baby’s parents, other factors, including epigenetic modifications occurring in utero or after birth, nutrition, feeding habits, sleep hygiene, home conditions, and mother-baby interactions, can all influence brain development during the first few months of life.

“Our lab is focused on getting a comprehensive view of how mothers impact infant brain development,” said Brittany Howell, an assistant professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC.

Howell’s research program blends biological and behavioral analysis to capture a wide range of factors implicated in healthy human brain development.

Researchers on her team will analyze and compare breast milk composition, feeding habits, stress levels, fecal microbiology, social behavior, and brain imaging data.

“We want to understand how the mother’s health and behavior influence infant brain development so we can define what the brain needs to develop optimally,” said Howell, who is also an assistant professor in the Virginia Tech College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences’ Department of Human Development and Family Science.

Her lab starts recruiting new mothers to participate in longitudinal research studies in early 2020.

Prior to joining Virginia Tech’s faculty in August, Howell was a postdoctoral associate at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development, where she was involved in developing the UNC/UMN Baby Connectome Project and BCP-Enriched, which characterized brain and behavioral development of infants during the first five years of life.

Howell grew up in New Hampshire. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Tulane University and a doctoral degree in neuroscience from Emory University, where she studied the impact of early adversity and stress.


UVA Basketball Fans!

uva basketball team of destiny
Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, by Jerry Ratcliffe and Chris Graham, is available for $25. The book, with additional reporting by Zach Pereles, Scott Ratcliffe, and Scott German, will take you from the aftermath of the stunning first-round loss to UMBC in 2018 through to the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.

Dick Vitale on Team of Destiny: “This is a hoops story you will LOVE! Jerry and Chris capture the sensational and dramatic championship journey by Tony Bennett and his tenacious Cavalier team. UVA was Awesome Baby and so is this book!”

Ralph Sampson on Team of Destiny: “Jerry and Chris have lived and seen it all, even before my time. I highly recommend this book to every basketball fan across the globe. This story translates to all who know defeat and how to overcome it!”

Feedback from buyers: “Got the Book in the Mail Saturday, and could not put it down! Great read and great photography as well! Love all of the books I’ve received, but hands down, this is my favorite!” – Russell

Buy here.

augusta free press news
augusta free press news
augusta free press news