Pregnant woman eating pasta

favorite foods before birth?

Have you been trying to hide the veggies in a cheese sauce or in homemade lasagna? A study shows that babies begin to develop a taste for certain foods while they are still in utero, leading researchers to believe that a varied diet while pregnant is the best thing.

Sure, you love garlic fries and a good curry dish — but what about your unborn baby? Turns out she may be enjoying the same flavors and carry those preferences forward.

Read what's safe to eat during pregnancy >>

Taste-tester on board

How do babies taste what Mom is eating? While in the womb, your growing baby drinks several ounces of amniotic fluid each day. Amniotic fluid takes on the flavors from food and beverages that the pregnant woman has consumed in the last few hours. Depending on the foods you enjoy — or any ethnic spices and flavors that you regularly eat — your baby may be experiencing a wide range of tastes. This also pertains to breast milk, which has been shown to take on the flavors of mom’s last meal. Many women watch what they eat very carefully when they are breastfeeding in order to make sure that baby still likes the taste.

"Things like vanilla, carrot, garlic, anise, mint — these are some of the flavors that have been shown to be transmitted to amniotic fluid or mother's milk," says Julie Mennella, Ph.D., a researcher who works at the Monell Chemical Senses Center. Her research into babies and taste has been published in the journal Pediatrics.

What do you know about amniotic fluid? >>

Study tests taste buds

Mennella says not only are the flavors in food transmitted in the amniotic fluid and breast milk, but babies are forming memories of these flavors even before birth. So, foods you eat during pregnancy could result in your child’s preferences for these foods for a lifetime. How do you test the taste buds of someone who can’t talk? Mennella says this had already been observed in rabbits, so she decided to test it in human babies

In this particular study, pregnant women were split into three groups — one group drank carrot juice during pregnancy, one group drank it while breastfeeding, and the third group avoided carrot juice entirely. When these babies were introduced to solid foods later on, researchers videotaped their responses to cereal made with either water or carrot juice. "And just like the European rabbit, the babies who had experienced carrot in amniotic fluid or mother's milk ate more of the carrot-flavored cereal," says Mennella. "And when we analyzed the video tapes they made less negative faces while eating it." Since mothers tend to feed their babies the same foods that they enjoy, it makes sense that they are exposed to them in utero — giving them an introduction to the flavors and foods they will share with family.

Could this be the antidote to the picky eater?

So, no more picky eaters, then? If your unborn baby is developing a taste for certain flavors and spices, wouldn’t it make sense to eat a wide variety of foods during your pregnancy? Yes and no. Mennella admits that many toddlers may still make a sour face when eating broccoli, and some may never enjoy the taste. But the exposure in the womb to the tastes and flavors your family enjoys — cultural dishes that are family staples, spices unique to a particular culture or lots of vegetables — sets the stage for your child’s culinary curiosity down the road.

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