Baby Can Smell and Taste Mom's Food While in the Womb, Study Says

A kale salad for mom today could keep baby from being a picky eater tomorrow.
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By Wyndi Kappes, Assistant Editor
Published September 28, 2022
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We know baby can kick and cry in the womb, but could they be refining their palate too? In a new breakthrough, scientists have recorded the first direct evidence that babies react differently to various smells and tastes while in the womb.

The new study published in Psychological Science took 4D ultrasounds of 100 pregnant women at 32 and 36 weeks to try to determine baby’s reaction to different flavors ingested by mom. Mothers were given either 400mg carrot or kale powder pills. Shortly after the pills had been taken scientists used the ultrasound to observe baby’s facial expression changes.

Spoiler alert: babies hate kale too. The images from the ultrasounds showed that babies exposed to carrot powder had more “laughter-face” responses while those exposed to kale had more “cry-face” responses.

So how is baby discerning these flavors from inside mom? Scientists know that humans experience flavor through a combination of taste and smell, so it is thought that babies might have a similar experience by inhaling and swallowing the amniotic fluid in the womb. This ability to smell and taste while in the womb has big implications.

"A number of studies have suggested that babies can taste and smell in the womb, but they are based on post-birth outcomes while our study is the first to see these reactions prior to birth,” lead researcher Beyza Ustun told Ashton University in a news release. "As a result, we think that this repeated exposure to flavours before birth could help to establish food preferences post-birth, which could be important when thinking about messaging around healthy eating and the potential for avoiding ‘food-fussiness’ when weaning.”

Researchers are currently working on a follow up study with each baby from the study to see if their in utero food expierence has impacted their acceptance of certain foods outside the womb. Based on these results and further studies, scientists say the information that women receive during their prenatal appointments about taste and nutrition may change.

"It could be argued that repeated prenatal flavour exposures may lead to preferences for those flavours experienced postnatally. In other words, exposing the fetus to less ‘liked’ flavours, such as kale, might mean they get used to those flavours in utero,” commented research co-author professor Jackie Blissett. “The next step is to examine whether fetuses show less ‘negative’ responses to these flavours over time, resulting in greater acceptance of those flavours when babies first taste them outside of the womb.”

While there isn’t one perfect pregnancy diet, for the most part doctors agree that eating a well-balanced diet with lots of fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean proteins will give baby what they needs. Looking to give your little one the best possible start? Check out these this list of reccomended pregnancy foods and items to add to your grocery cart.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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