Want your child to love veggies? Start early. Very early. Research shows that what a woman eats during pregnancy not only nourishes her baby in the womb, but may shape food preferences later in life.
At 21 weeks after conception, a developing baby weighs about as much as a can of Coke — and he or she can taste it, too. Still in the womb, the growing baby gulps down several ounces of amniotic fluid daily. That fluid surrounding the baby is actually flavored by the foods and beverages the mother has eaten in the last few hours.
"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," there isn't a single flavor they have found that doesn't show up in utero.
The Scent Of Amniotic Fluid
To determine if flavors are passed from the mother to the the baby via the amniotic fluid, researchers gave women garlic capsules or sugar capsules before taking a routine sample of their amniotic fluid — and then asked a panel of people to smell the samples.
Cows that graze on wild garlic and onion, or who live in stinking barns, produce milk with distinct flavors.
Not only is the amniotic fluid and breast milk in humans flavored by food just like cows, but memories of these flavors are formed even before birth. That could result in preferences for these foods or odors for a lifetime. In other words, if you eat broccoli while you're pregnant, there's a much better chance your baby will like broccoli.
Want to give birth to a baby with a taste for the finer, greener, or more adventurous things in life? Consider eating them yourself. Research has found that while in utero babies are not only nourished by their mother's meals, they also learn from them.
Baby Shower Food with a Feminine Touch
While in the womb, a baby is surrounded by amniotic fluid, which it also imbibes — and tastes. Researchers from the Monell Chemical Sense Center tested this concept by giving pregnant women garlic or sugar capsules before taking a sample of amniotic fluid. Then they asked a group of people to smell the samples. The panel was easily able to pick out which of the women had ingested the garlic capsules. The amniotic fluid retained garlicky characteristics. Many other flavors and scents have also shown up in amniotic fluid and breast milk. These flavors help to form the kinds of food that babies will prefer to eat once they are born. Researchers hypothesize that babies remember these flavors on some level.
Baby Shower Food with a Masculine Edge
A group of pregnant women was divided into three factions. One group drank carrot juice every day during their pregnancies, the second drank carrot juice while breastfeeding, and the third ate no carrots or carrot juice at all. When the children began eating solid foods, they were given cereal either made with water or carrot juice. Researchers found that the babies who had been exposed to carrot while in the womb or while drinking breast milk ate more of the carrot cereal. Julie Mennella, a researcher with the Monnell Center, told that this makes evolutionary sense. It is easiest for a mother to feed her baby what she likes to eat as that is the food that is most at hand. So it is in the baby's best interest that it like that food.
Amniotic fluid samples were obtained from 10 pregnant women undergoing routine amniocentesis procedure. Approximately 45 min prior to the procedure, five of the women ingested placebo capsules, whereas the remaining five ingested capsules containing the essential oil of garlic. Randomly selected pairs of samples, one from a woman who ingested garlic and the other from a woman who ingested placebo capsules, were then evaluated by a sensory panel of adults. The odor of the amniotic fluid obtained from four of the five women who had ingested the garlic capsules was judged to be stronger or more like garlic than the paired samples collected from the women consuming placebo capsules. Thus, garlic ingestion by pregnant women significantly alters the odor of their amniotic fluid.
Flavors from the mother’s diet during pregnancy are transmitted to amniotic fluid and swallowed by the fetus. Consequently, the types of food eaten by women during pregnancy and, hence, the flavor principles of their culture may be experienced by the infants before their first exposure to solid foods. Some of these same flavors will later be experienced by infants in breast milk, a liquid that, like amniotic fluid, comprises flavors that directly reflect the foods, spices, and beverages eaten by the mother. The present study tested the hypothesis that experience with a flavor in amniotic fluid or breast milk modifies the infants’ acceptance and enjoyment of similarly flavored foods at weaning.
Pregnant women who planned on breast-feeding their infants were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 groups. The women consumed either 300 mL of carrot juice or water for 4 days per week for 3 consecutive weeks during the last trimester of pregnancy and then again during the first 2 months of lactation. The mothers in 1 group drank carrot juice during pregnancy and water during lactation; mothers in a second group drank water during pregnancy and carrot juice during lactation, whereas those in the control group drank water during both pregnancy and lactation. Approximately 4 weeks after the mothers began complementing their infants’ diet with cereal and before the infants had ever been fed foods or juices containing the flavor of carrots, the infants were videotaped as they fed, in counterbalanced order, cereal prepared with water during 1 test session and cereal prepared with carrot juice during another. Immediately after each session, the mothers rated their infants’ enjoyment of the food on a 9-point scale.
The results demonstrated that the infants who had exposure to the flavor of carrots in either amniotic fluid or breast milk behaved differently in response to that flavor in a food base than did nonexposed control infants. Specifically, previously exposed infants exhibited fewer negative facial expressions while feeding the carrot-flavored cereal compared with the plain cereal, whereas control infants whose mothers drank water during pregnancy and lactation exhibited no such difference. Moreover, those infants who were exposed to carrots prenatally were perceived by their mothers as enjoying the carrot-flavored cereal more compared with the plain cereal. Although these same tendencies were observed for the amount of cereal consumed and the length of the feeds, these findings were not statistically significant.
Prenatal and early postnatal exposure to a flavor enhanced the infants’ enjoyment of that flavor in solid foods during weaning. These very early flavor experiences may provide the foundation for cultural and ethnic differences in cuisine.
Toughout human history, what a woman experiences during pregnancy and lactation has been believed to somehow influence her child’s character for a lifetime.1 For example, stresses or shocks experienced by the pregnant mother, as well as faulty diets, were assumed to cause mental imbalances in the child. That this notion extends to early postnatal life is suggested by the rich folklore that surrounded the choice of wet nurses. Before the 1800s, many believed that the lactating mother or wet nurse, through her milk, provided the infant with not only nourishment but characteristics of her personality, such as her ideas, intelligence, speech, and emotional qualities.
During the past few decades, a series of experiments demonstrated that fetal learning does indeed occur. The fetus not only learns the speech characteristics of the mother prenatally, but shortly after birth, infants prefer their mother’s voice, a passage recited to them prenatally, and the theme music of a soap opera watched by their mothers during pregnancy. The ability to detect other sensory stimuli, such as tastes and smells, also seems to be developed before birth.
Within days of birth, human infants will orient toward the odor of their own amniotic fluid, which suggests that prenatal sensory experiences can bias the newborn’s behaviors and preferences. Moreover, the environment from which the newborn came, the amnion, contains compounds derived from flavors of foods eaten by the pregnant mother.Such exposure to dietary transmitted flavors (eg, garlic, anise) in amniotic fluid has been shown to influence the newborn’s facial, mouthing, and orienting responses to the flavor in the short-term. Because some of these same flavors will later be experienced in breast milk, the fetus and breast-fed infant experience the flavors of their mother’s diet before their first exposure to these flavors insolid foods. The present study expands on these findings and provides the first experimental evidence in humans that prenatal flavor experiences enhance the acceptance and enjoyment of similarly flavored foods during weaning. It also shows that postnatal exposure has similar consequences. Thus, very early flavor experiences may provide the foundation for cultural and ethnic differences in cuisine.
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Dr Unnati Chavda
(Promoting pregnancy wellness)