Last updated at 3:54 AM on 22nd February 2012
Women who have a varied diet in pregnancy may be less likely to have a child who is a fussy eater.
A decade of research has linked the smells and tastes that a baby is exposed to in its first few weeks and months of life with the foods and scents it grows to like.
In some cases, babies appear to get a taste for the foods their mothers eat in the womb.
Mix it up: Maintaining a varied diet during pregnancy may help avoid having children who are fussy eaters
Researcher Benoist Schaal said: ‘During pregnancy the womb is relatively permeable and what the mother takes in goes in a certain dose to the foetus during a time when the brain is being formed, probably with long-term consequences.’
Dr Schaal, of Bourgogne University in Dijon, has looked at the effect of odour in and out of the womb.
In one experiment, he gave some women aniseed-flavoured sweets and biscuits to eat in the last few days of pregnancy, while others ate their usual foods.
Once their babies were born, the scent of aniseed was wafted past their faces.
who had tasted or smelt aniseed in the womb turned towards it and
seemed to smile, the American Association for the Advancement of
Science’s annual conference heard.
experiment did not go on to check whether the children liked the taste
of aniseed, as well as the smell. But as scent is a major contributor to
our sense of taste, this is likely, said the researcher.
experiments show babies to react positively to smells, from carrots to
garlic, if they have first sniffed them before birth.
But the effect may not always be
beneficial to health, with a taste for cigarettes and alcohol perhaps
also being set early in life.
An Argentinian study showed babies whose mothers drank during pregnancy licked their lips at the scent of alcohol.
The period during which a baby is weaned on to solid foods may also influence the child’s tastes in later life.
More mess, less fuss: In some cases, babies appear to get a taste for the foods their mothers eat in the womb
Dr Schaal fed six-month-old babies boring or mixed diets and then looked at how they reacted to being given a new food.
For example, one group of babies was
given little but pureed carrots to eat for ten days. Another was given
carrots for a day, then a day of artichoke and a day of green beans,
before starting back on the carrots again.
They were then tested on new tastes such as pureed fish, ham or peas.
Those weaned on a varied diet gulped down the new foods, unlike those who were only used to carrots.
Other research has shown that the tastes we develop as babies can stay with us for decades.
The experiment focused on vanilla, which was used to flavour formula milk in Germany until 1992.
People aged between 12 and 59 were given two types of ketchup to taste and asked which they had preferred.
The one that had been laced with vanilla tended to be preferred by those who had been fed by bottle, rather than by breast, as babies.
Dr Schaal said it is possible that eating a varied diet in pregnancy could cut the odds of the baby being a picky eater and added that health policies on improving diet should focus on the start of life.
Clare Byam-Cook, a former midwife who has taught celebrities such as Kate Winslet and Natasha Kaplinsky how to feed their babies, backed the Frenchman’s theory, up to a point.
She said: ‘It seems to be the case that a mother who eats a lot of curries in her pregnancy can also eat lots when she is breastfeeding, because the baby has got used to it.
‘Mothers who don’t eat lots of curries are normally told that spicy foods might upset the baby when they are breastfeeding.’
But she said the way the child is brought up is also important and persevering with the introduction of new foods, even when a child claims not to like them, will cut the odds of the youngster becoming a fussy eater.
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People have been saying this for years. But I love fish and seafood, and neither of my children would ever touch them, still won’t. Plus I gave birth to a boy who would eat everything except fish and mushrooms (another of my favourites), and a girl who was fussy from the start, ate nothing but milk, yoghurt and bananas until she was 2 (all of which I hate) and who blames me for putting her off orange juice by giving it to her daily as a child. So are we just odd?
Meh. My diet during pregnancy consisted of red creaming soda, antacids and the odd apple, and both my kids are brilliant eaters. And neither of them like creaming soda.
The most frustrating thing about fussy eaters is they won’t even try the food!!
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