Breast Milk’s Subtle Flavor Magic

How breast milk flavors affect babies and their future relationship with food. Dr. Greene sheds light on what's been studied.

Dr. Greene’s take on the flavors of breast milk…

Interestingly, babies tend to suck more vigorously when a new flavor is introduced into their mothers’ diet (even if the mothers don’t notice the change in nursing, researchers can measure it). The babies’ bodies seem eager to learn new flavors. When that flavor has been repeated a few times, nursing returns to normal, suggesting that babies have indeed learned the new flavor.

Though the ability of breast milk to provide babies with exposures to a series of specific flavors is exciting, perhaps even more exciting is the ability of the variety of flavors in breast milk to help kids be more accepting of vegetables in general.

One interesting study looked at breastfed babies versus exclusively formula-fed babies and how quickly they learned to enjoy their first pureed vegetable. The babies were given either peas or green beans every day for ten days. Both groups of babies could learn to like the veggies with repeated exposures. But the breastfed babies learned to like them faster, even though their mothers hadn’t focused on either of these flavors during nursing. And after the full ten days of the experiment, the breastfed babies still tended to eat more of the veggies than did their counterparts with limited flavor experience.

Learn more in Feeding Baby Green Chapter 6, The First Months
Sullivan, S. A., and Birch, L. L. “Infant Dietary Experience and Acceptance of Solid Foods.” Pediatrics, 1994, 93: 271–277

Published on: August 07, 2011
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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