Did you know that babies can taste before they are even born?! I know I’m a nerd but I think that is pretty amazing and even useful as far as developing familiarity with flavours and helping to reduce some of those dreaded fussy food behaviours.
Here’s the science
Before a child is born it has experienced many flavour sensations. (1) By 6 months gestation the senses allowing taste are functional and as the foetus swallows amniotic fluid, flavour from the mother’s diet are experienced by the baby. (1, 2) The same applies to flavours transferred into breast milk and consequently the flavours which a baby is exposed to during breastfeeding are more readily accepted when introduced as solids. (1, 2)
How can you use this to your advantage?
So before a baby is born a mother can take advantage of this pretty cool science to help increase her baby’s acceptance of fruits and vegetables by eating plenty of it herself. Quiet obviously there are plenty of other reasons that pregnant women should fill up on the good stuff too.
But the opportunities don’t end there. If a mother breastfeeds her child the opportunities to develop acceptance of fruits and vegetables continues firstly through the flavours carried in the breast milk but also through the associations developed from the sensory and emotional processes of nourishment, security, warmth, contact and attention experienced during breastfeeding and while tasting these flavours. (1) That is, a baby begins to develop an association with the flavour of veggies and being nourished.
It’s not fool proof
Of course there is no guarantee that exposing your baby to these flavours during pregnancy and breastfeeding will completely avoid fussy food behaviours during childhood, but it will help set you on the right path, if not due to the flavour transfer but definitely by exposure to a positive role model and a food environment that promotes eating fruit and vegetable.
Keep in mind that children have an innate preference for sweet and salty flavours, but an aversion to sour and bitter as a natural response to compounds which may be toxic. (1, 3) It is also worth keeping in mind that those foods which are consumed when a child is most hungry become associated with the desirable feeling of satiety and as such these foods become preferences. (3) The context in which a food is consume also plays a major role in the associations developed with that food and flavour, a stressful environment will create a negative association - so relax. (2)
Keep the ball rolling
As I said, plenty of fruit and veg during pregnancy and breastfeeding is just the tip of the iceberg in getting kids to wilfully accept fruit and vegetables (I wanted to say happily accept, but I thought this might be a stretch). To keep the ball rolling and increase your child’s acceptance of flavours and new foods before solids are introduced:
You can read more on why ‘it’s not a coincidence that my kids love veggies’ here or check out ‘Are you teaching your kids to be a fussy eater’ over on Mouth of Mums
1. Blake A. Flavour perception and the learning of food. In: Taylor AR, D.C.,editor. Flavour perception: Oxford: Blackwell Publishing; 2004. p. 173-202.
2.Ganchrow J, Mennella, J. The ontogeny of human flavour perception. In: Doty RL,editor. Handbook of olfaction and gustation (2nd Ed). New York: Marcel Dekker Inc.; 2003. p. 823-46.
3. Birch, L. Fisher, J. Development of eating behaviours among children and adolescents. Pediatrics. 1998;539(11).
Nikki is a PhD qualified Nutritionist and an expert in children's eating.