Purdue University Graduate School
RFC_Dissertation_2021.pdf (2.79 MB)

Placing a Lens on the First 1000 Days of Life: Prenatal Intake, Infant Feeding, the Microbiome and Child Growth

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posted on 2021-07-26, 11:25 authored by Rana ChehabRana Chehab
The first 1000 days of life, from conception until the child’s second birthday, constitute a critical window for child growth and development. During infancy and early childhood, significant and rapid physical changes occur, including increases in weight, height, and brain size and organ development accompanied by cognitive and psychomotor development. Adequate infant feeding, including breastfeeding and complementary feeding, that meets the infants’ energy and nutrient requirements can help protect against growth faltering, infant and child morbidity and mortality, and delayed mental and motor development. Adequate nutrition during this critical period can also protect against adverse health outcomes and chronic diseases later in life according to the hypothesis of developmental origins of health and disease.

A web of factors that are country- and culture- specific influence infant feeding practices and child growth. Further, the microbiome has been suggested as a strong potential player in the association between infant nutrition and child growth. Therefore, the overarching theme of the current dissertation is to investigate hypotheses that can provide evidence to inform the paradigm linking socio-demographic, maternal, and child determinants including prenatal intake to infant feeding, the breast milk and infant gut microbiome, and child growth within the first 1000 days of life. Specifically, aims one and two examine the socio-demographic, maternal, and child determinants of child growth and breastfeeding in a cross-sectional survey of mother-child dyads in Lebanon, a middle-income country undergoing nutrition transition in the Middle East. The third aim focuses on the CHILD cohort study, a multi-center longitudinal prospective birth cohort study, to examine the associations between prenatal diet and supplement intake and the breast milk microbiome. Finally, the fourth aim is to review the evidence for the potential of the infant gut microbiome as a promising target linking complementary feeding to child undernutrition in low- and middle- income countries (LMIC) with the highest burden of undernutrition.

The results for aim one revealed sex-specific determinants of child growth in Lebanon. The determinants examined through a hierarchical conceptual framework included: maternal and paternal education among boys and crowding index among girls at the distal sociodemographic level, and maternal obesity among girls at the intermediate maternal level. The proximal child determinants included birth length, number of children in the household and breastfeeding duration among girls, birthweight among boys and child’s age among boys and girls.

In the analysis for aim two, breastfeeding practices were suboptimal in Lebanon as less than half (41.5%) of the infants were exclusively breastfed during the 40-day rest period and 12.3% were exclusively breastfed during the 6-month duration recommended by the World Health Organization. Higher socioeconomic status, as reflected by a larger number of cars owned, and C-section delivery were consistently inversely associated with lower odds of exclusive breastfeeding for 40 days and 6 months. Belonging to a family with more children was associated with higher odds of exclusive breastfeeding for 40 days; while maternal overweight and obesity were associated with lower odds of exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months.

Findings from aim three suggested that prenatal supplement use, but not prenatal dietary quality and patterns, modulate the breast milk microbiota composition in the CHILD cohort in Canada. This project was exploratory and utilized one of the largest birth cohort studies with available breast milk microbiome data. Specifically, use of vitamin C and D supplements plus multivitamins during any trimester in pregnancy was consistently associated with milk microbial diversity and genus composition before and after adjustment for socio-demographic, maternal, and child covariates. Use of other supplements such as fish oil, folate, and calcium was less consistently associated with the breast milk microbiome.
The fourth aim of the review chapter focused on the infant gut microbiome. The effects of complementary feeding on the infant gut microbiome are less commonly studied than those of breastfeeding, with most research conducted in high-income countries but not LMIC. In contrast, associations between inadequate complementary feeding and undernutrition have been examined in LMIC where undernutrition is most prevalent. Further, a disrupted gut microbiota has been associated with child undernutrition. Indeed, animal studies have suggested a causal association although the direction of the causality is not clear and is potentially bi-directional depending on genetic and environmental conditions. In light of the current state of knowledge described in our review supporting the potential of the gut microbiota as a key player in the relation between complementary feeding and undernutrition, the development of microbiota-directed interventions during the complementary period offers a promising route for undernutrition management.

Findings from the studies presented in this dissertation highlight several culture-specific determinants of child growth and breastfeeding in Lebanon. The findings also highlight the need for future research using longitudinal prospective cohorts, intervention trails and animal models to provide evidence for the proposed links to enhance the understanding of the paradigm. Such a holistic view of the determinants of and pathways between infant feeding and child growth are of great public health significance to improve the health of children throughout their lives.


*Lebanese National Council for Scientific Research (Beirut, Lebanon) through its support of the Associated Research Unit (ARU) on ‘Nutrition and Noncommunicable Diseases in Lebanon’, and by the University Research Board (American University of Beirut, Lebanon) (Grant number 102724)

CIHR and AllerGen NCE funded the CHILD Cohort Study. The Canadian Lung Association and Canadian Respiratory Research Network funded the milk microbiome sequencing.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Nutrition Science

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Michele R Forman

Additional Committee Member 2

Dennis Savaiano

Additional Committee Member 3

Nilupa Gunaratna

Additional Committee Member 4

Lara Nasreddine

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