BrainWaves: The Neuroscience Graduate Program Newsletter

MiNDS Manuscripts: Neda Mortaji

Authors: Neda Mortaji

In this month’s MiNDS Manuscript series, Neda Mortaji discusses her most recent publication in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 

Click here to read her article!

Maternal Pregnancy Diet, Postnatal Home Environment and Executive Function and Behavior in 3- to 4-y-Olds

What was the primary focus of your paper?
Problems with cognition and behaviour affect one in five children globally. Since maternal pregnancy diet and the postnatal rearing environment are key factors in the development of cognition and behaviour, we wanted to examine the effect of maternal pregnancy diet on executive function and behaviour in children raised in suboptimal home environments. 

Can you briefly explain the findings of your paper for someone outside the field?
Briefly, we found that in a sample of 808 mother-infants dyads, maternal pregnancy diet quality was associated with an increasingly positive association with executive function and behaviour as levels of postnatal stimulation decreased. This suggests that better maternal pregnancy diet may lead to more improved child neurodevelopment in more suboptimal home environments than those that are more stimulating. 

Do you have any advice for anyone who is writing their first research paper? 
If you have not been involved in preparing the grant proposal that leads to the research, my first advice would be to read as much as you can prior to writing. This will help you understand the existing literature and allow you to effectively express the need for your research, as well as guide your thoughts for different sections of the paper. Second, start by writing an outline. An outline can help organize your thoughts in a clear manner and set the general structure/flow of your paper so it’s easier to write. Lastly, it may be helpful to have a journal or two of interest in mind before starting to write, so you can begin to format the paper to their requirements. 

What was the most fun part of this journey?
This may not be a popular answer, but I really enjoyed the response to reviewers portion of the journey. At first, it was intimidating reading the comments/criticism of the reviewers (and there were/was a lot!), but once it’s done, you realize what a great learning experience it was, and how much more knowledgeable you are about your field. It’s a time when you can learn from the expertise of the reviewers, but also showcase your knowledge to them. 
Another major issue I faced when writing this paper was the completely different way experimental scientists and clinicians write. This paper had a team of experimental scientists and clinicians working together to show the clinical utility of our findings. I have had experiences writing papers but writing this one was a big challenge because I had to re-orient my mind to think and write like a clinician. However, this provided me with an appreciation for how these results can be interpreted and translated into ways clinicians can effectively use to help their patients. 

What does your paper hope to accomplish / how does it add value to the field?
To our knowledge, this was the first study to show the positive associations between prenatal exposure (pregnancy diet) in the presence of increased postnatal adversity (rearing environment), suggesting that healthier prenatal diet quality could potentially benefit children from suboptimal home environments. Since pregnancy diet is modifiable, we hope that targeted interventions to improve maternal diet quality during pregnancy are introduced, as they could represent a potential future means by which public health units in Western countries could positively affect child neurodevelopment, particularly for families that face challenges to providing optimally stimulating home environments for their children. 

What were some of the issues (e.g., writer's block, lack of motivation, pressing deadlines, etc.) you faced when writing this paper? How did you overcome them? 
This paper was written during the COVID-19 pandemic, so lack of motivation was an issue at times. One thing I found helpful was setting deadlines to complete different tasks. Setting deadlines allowed me to track how much work I still had left until my deadline, so I could organize my time more effectively to complete the task. Another helpful point was considering the other co-authors on the paper. There were five co-authors on this paper who were looking forward to the completion of this paper, and it was motivating for me to not delay their contributions. 

Thank you so much Neda!
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