Can Your Pregnancy Foods Shape Your Baby’s Food Preferences?
Can pregnancy food choices make a difference to the foods your baby will enjoy later?
With thanks to Laura Tilt, Registered Dietitian at Biamother
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a strong dislike for aniseed, and any foods that share its flavour. Is this aversion something I’ve learned, or were my food preferences determined in the womb by my mother’s pregnancy food choices? Interestingly, evidence suggests the latter…
In the spotlight
Pregnancy is a period in your life when your food choices are suddenly thrown into the spotlight – you’re no longer just feeding yourself, but nourishing a growing baby too. At times, this can feel like an overwhelming responsibility – are you getting enough of the right nutrients, will your little one develop your penchant for salt and vinegar crisps, and what about your newly acquired cravings for rocky road ice-cream?
Whilst pregnancy cravings haven’t been linked to specific nutritional needs, all the evidence we have demonstrates that a healthy balanced diet (with a few additions such as a folic acid supplement) is the best way to ensure your baby gets all the nutrients they need to grow and develop properly. On an equally positive note, choosing healthy pregnancy foods may influence your baby’s liking for a healthy diet too.
Nestled inside your belly, your baby is surrounded by a sac of amniotic fluid. This fluid protects them from bumps and injury and helps to keep their body temperature at a constant rate. It also serves as a medium through which nutrients and hormones are delivered…and fascinatingly, this cushion of fluid appears to provide your baby with their first flavour experiences too.
The initial idea that amniotic fluid could provide a sensory experience inside the womb came from a case study of four infants born to women who had eaten a spicy meal prior to delivery. In all four cases, doctors delivering the babies were able to detect the smells of the spices consumed before birth.
Following this observation, researchers from the United States women recruited 10 healthy women undergoing routine amniocentesis – a procedure which involves a small amount of amniotic fluid being removed and tested. Prior to the procedure, half the women were asked to swallow capsules containing garlic and half were asked to swallow capsules containing odourless sugar. In almost every case, a panel of sensory judges were able to detect garlic odours in the amniotic fluid from the women who had swallowed the garlic capsules.
Since then, scientists have demonstrated that numerous flavours including mint, aniseed, carrot and vanilla can easily be detected in amniotic fluid. By the end of the first trimester, your baby begins swallowing hundreds of milliliters of this fluid each day, and by 21 weeks, they can detect taste and smell. So could these early exposures to flavours shape your baby’s food preferences in early life?
In an experiment designed to test the idea that pregnancy foods influence amniotic flavours which do influence a baby’s preferences for specific foods, researchers assigned 46 pregnant women to one of three groups. Group one was asked to drink carrot juice several times a week during their last trimester, group two were asked to drink carrot juice during their last trimester and when breastfeeding, and group three were asked to drink water and avoid carrots completely.
Shortly after the mothers began weaning, each infant was fed cereal prepared with carrot juice for the first time. Results showed that babies exposed to the flavour of carrot either in amniotic fluid or breastmilk made fewer negative faces and were perceived to enjoy the carrot flavour cereal more than those who had not been exposed.
Don’t panic, tastes can change
If you’re reading this and panicking that your baby is definitely not going to be a fan of carrot flavoured foods, don’t panic. Although these studies suggest that early exposure to flavours from pregnancy foods in the womb can shape your baby’s tastes, it’s not clear how long this influence lasts for.
It’s also true that babies’ taste preferences are not fixed – so even if you get a ‘yuck!’ face when you begin weaning and your baby tastes broccoli or other less sweet tasting vegetables for the first time- don’t give up. We are evolutionarily hard wired to like sweet flavours, so getting used to bitter flavours takes time and it can take several attempts before a baby will accept a new food. Remember to give lots of positive encouragement when they try something new, and keep offering new tastes even if they are initially rejected.
The author, Laura Tilt, is a registered dietitian at Biamother, the simple to use, holistic wellness platform designed by industry experts that provides nutrition, mindfulness and exercise support and advice for mothers at their fingertips – as they navigate their way through pregnancy, and the first few years of parenthood. Due to the current pandemic, Biamother will be supporting mothers and mothers-to-be, by offering free access to their standard service (normally £16.99 a month) until 30th June 2020, to assist them during this unsettling time.
Disclaimer: The views and advice given in this article are those of the guest writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Weaning Week or any other organisations represented on this platform