Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Eating Habits Before Birth

I was watching Building Babies: Inner Adventure on the Discovery Health Channel last night. Toward the end of the program, the highlights of research done on newborn infants and their recall of smells/tastes from the womb were presented. I found the study online, published in 2000, this morning and it is interesting!

Researchers assessed the responses of 24 newborns to the smell of anise immediately after birth and again four days after birth. Of the 24 babies, twelve had mothers who ate anise flavored candy for two weeks before delivery. The study showed that those infants whose mothers consumed anise were attracted to the smell of the anise, where the infants whose mothers did not consume the anise displayed aversion or nuetral responses to the anise.

The study was the first to provide clear evidence that through their diet, mothers influence the hedonic polarity of their newborns' initial olfactory responses. As the abstract concluded, "The findings have potential implications for the early mother-to-infant transmission of chemosensory information relative to food and addictive products."

Pretty cool, huh?

That study led me to another, published in Pediatrics in 2001. In this study, pregnant women consumed carrot juice as the "flavor" marker. After birth as the newborns were introduced to solids, "[t]he 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. "

The researchers concluded, "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."

For moms-to-be this is significant. If they want to try to "build good eating habits" early with their children...the diet they eat while pregnant appears to have an effect on their babies eating preferences as solid foods are introduced and later as eating habits are firmly rooted in childhood. Even if research later shows this to be a minor thing in the long-term, what harm can come from eating lots of vegetables, fruits, legumes and quality proteins and fats?

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