Babies have more taste buds before birth than at any later time. Why would they be designed to form extra taste buds only for them to disappear before they are even born?
Most parents think that before birth, babies get all of their nutrition through the umbilical cord. They don’t realize that babies also drink and digest amniotic fluid, swallowing the equivalent of up to three eight-ounce bottles a day of this nutritious, flavor-rich soup – flavored by what Mom has been eating and drinking. Babies taste, remember, and form initial preferences for these foods. It’s the first step toward Nutritional Intelligence. In my book Feeding Baby Green I described how to make the most of this:
First, you don’t need to do anything. That’s right. Babies are beautifully designed to get to know the real you. They learn about your world from what you eat and drink and from the aromas you smell. This is truly effortless learning and effortless teaching. Your baby is already imprinting on you much in the same way a baby duckling imprints on his mother.
Second, you could do something. We sometimes behave a little better when we know that others are watching. We’re our best selves. Now that you know that your baby is paying attention to what you eat and drink, you might find yourself naturally choosing healthier options from whatever is available.
Third, you might plan ahead to share with your baby the tastes and smells you would love for her to love (and perhaps skip, at least for a few months, the tastes you don’t want her to crave). If you need some ideas, you might aim for introducing delicious options from each of the twenty-one plant families listed in the “Biodiversity Checklist” at the end of Feeding Baby Green. These are a wide variety of foods that humans have enjoyed for thousands of years.
How often does a baby need to taste something to form a preference?
We know from animal studies that injecting a flavor into the amniotic fluid even once can make a lasting difference. Even once may be significant for human babies as well—especially for strong flavors.
I recommend that if there is a flavor or aroma you really want your baby to learn, aim for twelve times during the second and third trimesters. This works out to having the flavor at least every other week, on average. Or every week for a shorter burst. Or three times a week for a month.
For more information, see Feeding Baby Green, especially Chapter 4 Middle and Late Pregnancy, and the Biodiversity Checklist appendix, a simple delicious approach to teaching love of a variety of foods during pregnancy, nursing, spoon-fed, finger food, and fork & spoon stages of development.
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Mennella, J. A., Coren, P., Jagnow, M. S., and Beauchamp, G. K. “Prenatal and Postnatal Flavor Learning by Human Infants.” Pediatrics, June 6, 2001, 107(6): e88.
Smotherman ,W. P. “Odor Aversion Learning by the Rat Fetus.” Physiology & Behavior, Nov. 1982, 29(5): 769–771.
Bilko, A., Altbacker, V., and Hudson, R. “Transmission of Food Preference in the Rabbit: The Means of Information Transfer.” Physiology & Behavior, Nov. 1994, 56(5):907–912
Schaal, B., Marlier, L., and Soussignan, R. “Human Fetuses Learn Odours from Their Pregnant Mother’s Diet.” Chemical Senses, 2000, 25: 729–737.