Can baby taste food in womb

Baby's Palate, Food Memories Shaped Before Birth : NPR

Baby's Palate, Food Memories Shaped Before Birth Amniotic fluid and breast milk can be flavored by the food a mother eats. And memories of these flavors are formed before birth. That could result in preferences for these foods or odors for a lifetime.


Your Health

Heard on Morning Edition

Gretchen Cuda-Kroen

Baby's Palate And Food Memories Shaped Before Birth

Mothers might not realize that the tastes and flavors they savor while pregnant can influence their babies' palates later. Maggie Starbard/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Maggie Starbard/NPR

Want your child to love veggies? Start early. Very early. Research shows that what a woman eats during pregnancy not only nourishes her baby in the womb, but may shape food preferences later in life.

At 21 weeks after conception, a developing baby weighs about as much as a can of Coke — and he or she can taste it, too. Still in the womb, the growing baby gulps down several ounces of amniotic fluid daily. That fluid surrounding the baby is actually flavored by the foods and beverages the mother has eaten in the last few hours.

"Things like vanilla, carrot, garlic, anise, mint — these are some of the flavors that have been shown to be transmitted to amniotic fluid or mother's milk," says Julie Mennella, who studies taste in infants at the Monell Chemical Senses Center. In fact, Mennella says there isn't a single flavor they have found that doesn't show up in utero. Her work has been published in the journal Pediatrics.

The Scent Of Amniotic Fluid

To determine if flavors are passed from the mother to the the baby via the amniotic fluid, researchers gave women garlic capsules or sugar capsules before taking a routine sample of their amniotic fluid — and then asked a panel of people to smell the samples.

"And it was easy," says Mennella. "They could pick out the samples easily from the women who ate garlic." The sense of taste is actually 90-percent smell, she added, so they knew just from the odor that the babies could taste it.

Mennella says she got the idea from dairy farmers, who in the 1960s and 70s were doing research on how the diet of the dairy cow impacted the flavor of the milk. She says cows that graze on wild garlic and onion, or who live in stinking barns, produce milk with distinct flavors.

But Mennella says that not only is the amniotic fluid and breast milk in humans flavored by food just like cows, but memories of these flavors are formed even before birth. That could result in preferences for these foods or odors for a lifetime. In other words, if you eat broccoli while you're pregnant, there's a much better chance your baby will like broccoli.

Mennella says this had already been observed in rabbits, so she decided to test it in human babies — with carrots. Pregnant women were divided into three groups. One group was asked to drink carrot juice every day during their pregnancy, another during breastfeeding and a third to avoid carrots completely. Then when the children began to eat solid food, researchers fed them cereal made either with water, or carrot juice and videotaped their responses.

Things like vanilla, carrot, garlic, anise, mint — these are some of the flavors that have been shown to be transmitted to amniotic fluid or mother's milk.

Julie Mennella, who studies taste in infants at the Monell Chemical Senses Center

Introducing Babies To Food Culture

"And just like the European rabbit, the babies who had experienced carrot in amniotic fluid or mother's milk ate more of the carrot-flavored cereal," says Mennella. "And when we analyzed the video tapes they made less negative faces while eating it."

This makes a lot of evolutionary sense, says Mennella. Since mothers tend to feed their children what they eat themselves, it is nature's way of introducing babies to the foods and flavors that they are likely to encounter in their family and their culture.

"Each individual baby is having their own unique experience, it's changing from hour to hour, from day to day, from month to month," says Mennella. "As a stimulus it's providing so much information to that baby about who they are as a family and what are the foods their family enjoys and appreciates."

That very idea got Matty Lau thinking 'how is it that kids in other cultures eat foods that are spicy, bitter, or have pungent flavors?' She's a Chinese-American who had a baby in late July and recalls growing up eating foods most American kids she knows would never touch.

"My parents are great cooks — and so they'll cook things like preserved oysters. I always wondered how it was that I was able to grow up eating bitter vegetables like kale and mustard greens and things like ginger," says Lau.

Instilling A Love Of Chinese Flavors Before Birth

While she was pregnant, she consciously tried to provide her baby with the flavors she loves from her native Chinese cuisine. She the hopes that when her baby is older, it will share her love of flavorful food.

"I was really concerned that my child enjoy food as much as the rest of my family," says Lau.

University of Florida taste researcher Linda Bartoshuk says babies are born with very few hard and fast taste preferences. She says Mennella's work shows that very early exposures to flavors – both before and after birth — make it more likely that children will accept a wide variety of flavors. And when those early exposures are reinforced over a lifetime, Bartoshuk thinks they might have far-reaching implications, even promoting good eating.

"To what extent can we make a baby eat a healthier diet by exposing it to all the right flavors — broccoli, carrots, lima beans, et cetera? Could we do that or not? My guess is we could," says Bartoshuk.

Menella acknowledges that many toddlers will still make a sour face when given broccoli, no matter how much the mother ate while pregnant. And maybe they will never like it. But she says parents should keep exposing young children to these flavors because they can eventually learn to like them.

Sponsor Message

Become an NPR sponsor

Babies Can Taste Their Mothers' Food in the Womb

Do you have a pregnancy craving for kale chips? Your baby might not thank you.

A study published in the latest issue of Psychological Science shows that fetuses between 32 and 36 weeks of gestation smile or frown in response to the food their mother is eating.

A 4D ultrasound shows a fetus with a "laughter-face" expression on the left and a "cry-face" expression on the right.

Source: Ustun et al./ Psychological Science

Based at Durham University's Fetal and Neonatal Research Lab, the study’s research team used 4D ultrasound scans, which create three-dimensional videos of fetuses in utero, to see how the unborn children of 100 pregnant women reacted to food ingested by their mothers.

Each mother was given a capsule containing either carrot or kale powder 20 minutes before the ultrasound scan. Using pills instead of fresh carrot or kale controlled for the women’s own food preferences: the capsules had almost no smell or taste and only released their full flavor once they dissolved in the small intestine.

Fetuses exposed to the sweet taste of carrot responded with upturned lips and “laughter-face” expressions, while those exposed to the bitter taste of kale made “cry-face” expressions instead.

Senses and Facial Expressions Develop Throughout Pregnancy

A 4D ultrasound scan shows a three-dimensional video of a fetus.

Source: Mart Productions/Pexels

Taste buds appear at eight weeks of gestation in human fetuses and can detect taste molecules in the amniotic fluid around 14 weeks. By 24 weeks, fetuses can smell odor-active molecules in the fluid through their newly opened nostrils.

Meanwhile, fetuses' facial muscles are developing, and their facial expressions become more and more complex over the course of the pregnancy. From the second trimester, their expressions resemble the smiles and frowns they will make after birth.

Food Choices During Pregnancy Could Affect Baby’s Future Preferences

This study is the first to prove that fetuses still in the womb react to different tastes and smells.

Not only do these results give us a better understanding of the timeline for fetal sense development, but they also show that the mother’s diet during pregnancy is one way babies are introduced to new flavors, which could have a long-term impact on a child’s food preferences. A baby that tastes kale often enough in utero might be less likely to reject it when it’s fed to them after birth.

A baby looks skeptically at the viewer as it's fed a spoonful of purée.

Source: Hui Sang/Unsplash

"We think that this repeated exposure to flavors before birth could help to establish food preferences post-birth, which could be important when thinking about messaging around healthy eating and the potential for avoiding 'food-fussiness' when weaning,” explains lead researcher Beyza Ustun, a postgraduate in Durham’s Fetal and Neonatal Research Lab.

Adds research co-author Jackie Blissett, a professor of psychology at Aston University, “Exposing the fetus to less 'liked' flavors, such as kale, might mean they get used to those flavors in utero.”

The research team has now begun a follow-up study with the same babies post-birth to see if they’re more accepting of carrot and kale flavors than their peers.

Whether or not the study saves the babies’ parents some food-related tantrums down the road, it offered a rare look into the world of late-term fetuses, says Ustun. "It was really amazing to see unborn babies' reaction to kale or carrot flavors during the scans and share those moments with their parents."

What does a child do while it is in the mother’s stomach

August 17, 2018

In 9 months, a child goes a long way from a tiny embryo to a chubby baby and already in the womb acquires some features that will remain with him for life: for example, you can understand whether he will become right-handed or left-handed and what kind of food he will prefer. In a fairly short period of time, a lot of interesting things happen to a child, and today we invite you to go through the path from birth to birth with your baby. nine0005

1st trimester of pregnancy
1st–2nd week

So the long journey began. For the first 4 days, the future person is smaller than a grain of salt - its size is only 0.14 mm. However, starting from the 5th day, it begins to grow and by the 6th it almost doubles - up to as much as 0.2 mm. On the 4th day, the embryo "comes" to where it will spend the next 9 months - into the uterus, and on the 8th day it is implanted in its wall.

3rd–4th week nine0003


Embryo at the 4th week of pregnancy.

Around the 20th day of pregnancy, a very important event occurs: the neural tube appears, which will then turn into the spinal cord and brain of the child. Already on the 21st day, his heart begins to beat and all important organs, such as the kidneys and liver, begin to form. The eyes have not yet taken their usual position - the bubbles from which they will then take shape are located on the sides of the head. By the end of the 1st month, the embryo has a circulatory system, and the spine and muscles begin to develop. nine0003

5th–6th week

© EDITORIAL USE ONLY/East News © lunar caustic/wikimedia

At the 5th week, the hands appear in the embryo, however, the fingers are still very difficult to distinguish, but in the joints the arms and legs are already bent. It was at this time that the external genitalia begin to form, but it is not yet possible to see on an ultrasound whether it is a boy or a girl. By the way, since its appearance, the embryo has grown a lot - it has increased by as much as 10 thousand times. Already now, the baby's face is beginning to form, and the eyes, which will be closed for a very long time, darken, becoming more human-like. nine0003

7th–8th week

The 7th week of pregnancy is the time when the baby begins to move, however, so far completely unnoticed by the mother, and the fingers and toes become almost the same as in adults. At this stage, the rudiments of milk teeth appear in the embryo and the reproductive system develops, and the kidneys begin to produce urine. Despite the fact that the growth of the fetus is only 2.5 cm, it acquires its own facial expressions, it has eyelids, and the tip of the nose becomes more defined. nine0003

9th–10th week

© lunarcaustic/wikimedia

Baby at 9-10 weeks of gestation.

By this time, the baby has already grown well - its weight is 4 grams, and its height is 2-3 cm. Despite its tiny size, the brain is already divided into two hemispheres, and milk teeth and taste buds are beginning to form. The baby's tail and membranes between the fingers on the hands disappear, he begins to swim in the amniotic fluid and move even more actively, although still unnoticed by the mother. It was at this time that the child's individual facial features appear, and hair begins to grow on the head. nine0003

11–12 weeks

At this time, the genital organs are formed in the child, so it is already possible to find out his sex on an ultrasound scan, although the probability of an error is still high. The child still looks a little alien: he has a big head and a small body, but his face is more and more like an adult. The ears are almost in the right position, eyebrows and eyelashes appear. The cartilage that makes up the skeleton gradually ossifies, new blood vessels appear, and hormone production begins. By the way, the baby has already grown up to 6 cm and weighs about 20 grams. nine0003

13th-14th week

Baby at 14 weeks pregnant.

Despite the fact that the child's head is half the length of the entire body, the face is more and more reminiscent of an adult, and the rudiments of all 20 milk teeth have already been formed in the oral cavity. The child is already able to put his finger in his mouth, but he will learn to suck a little later. Due to the active formation of blood vessels, the baby's skin is red and very thin, so vellus hair appears on the body - lanugo, which is necessary to maintain a special lubricant that protects against hypothermia. nine0003

2nd trimester of pregnancy
15th–16th week

By the 15th week, the baby has grown to 10 cm and is gaining weight - now he weighs about 70 grams. Despite the fact that the eyes are still quite low, the face is already quite recognizable, moreover, the child begins to “make faces”, since the facial muscles are well developed. By this time, he already knows how to suck his thumb, and the sebaceous and sweat glands begin their work.

17th–18th week nine0003

And finally, the child's auditory canals are formed, so he begins to distinguish sounds well and hears the mother's voice, moreover, he is able to recognize it. In addition to the milk teeth, the embryos of the molars also appear, the bones are finally formed and begin to harden. By the way, the bones of the skull will remain mobile until birth - when passing through the birth canal, they will overlap each other to make it easier for the baby to be born. But the mother is finally beginning to feel the movements of the child, who has grown to 14 cm and 190 grams.

19th-20th week

Baby at 20 weeks pregnant.

Despite the fact that the child's eyes are still closed, he is already well oriented in the surrounding space. Moreover, now you can understand whether the child will be right-handed or left-handed, because right now he begins to use his dominant hand more actively. Fingerprints appear on the baby's fingers - another unique sign of each of us. By the way, the child is already beginning to gradually distinguish day from night and is active at a certain time. nine0003

21–22 weeks

The 21st week is the time when the baby begins to gain weight due to the formation of subcutaneous fat. Soon, the folds that newborns have will appear on his arms and legs. On the 22nd week, those neurons are formed in the brain that will be with a person all his life. Very soon the child will open his eyes, he is already trying to do this, and the eyeballs move almost like an adult.

23–24 weeks

At 23 weeks, the baby may begin to dream, and his face is so formed that an ultrasound can determine whose facial features he has inherited. His skin becomes opaque, his eyes open, and the child can already react to light, moreover, bright flashes can scare him. By the 24th week, the baby grows to almost 30 cm, and its weight reaches 0.5 kg.

25th–26th week

At this time, the taste buds of the child are finally formed and, tasting the amniotic fluid, he can frown if he does not like it. By the way, this is how eating habits are formed - already in the womb we have our favorite and unloved foods. Very soon the child will learn to blink and can already see a little, however, so far it is very, very vague. nine0003

3rd trimester of pregnancy
27th–28th week

Baby at 27–28 weeks of gestation.

If you do an ultrasound at this time, you can see how the baby smiles and intensively sucks his thumb. At this time, the baby has the first "toy" - his own umbilical cord, and he actively studies his body. At the end of the 7th month of pregnancy, the child develops an individual metabolism, which he will have all his life. The baby is already quite large - his weight reaches 1.2 kg, and his height is 35 cm.

29th-30th week

© East News

Baby at 30 weeks pregnant.

The layer of subcutaneous fat is increasing, and the baby is becoming more and more plump and well-fed. In addition, he already knows how to cry, cough, and even sometimes hiccups - this happens, most likely, when he swallows too much amniotic fluid. By the 30th week, the baby's brain is already so developed that it is quite capable of remembering and even analyzing information. nine0003

31–32 weeks

At this time, a person has all 5 senses, and his daily routine is more and more reminiscent of the one he will follow after birth. The child hears the work of all the organs of the mother, knows her voice perfectly, thanks to which, immediately after birth, he is able to distinguish her from all other people. The baby's immune system begins to produce antibodies that will protect him from all kinds of infections that may lie in wait in the first days and months after birth. nine0003

33–34th week

And finally, subcutaneous fat is already formed, and lanugo disappears from the body of the fetus. By this time, the baby has grown a lot - the length of his body reaches 40 cm, and the weight is very close to or even exceeds 2 kg. The baby's nervous system is already fully formed, but the lungs are still developing.

35th–36th week

© East News

The child yawns. 3D ultrasound at 36 weeks pregnant. nine0003

At this time, the child looks almost exactly the same as when he was born. He is still quite thin, but the layer of subcutaneous fat is increasing more and more intensively. However, his hair and nails are already fully developed, and he himself becomes so big that he has almost no room to maneuver, so he can move less than in earlier stages.

37–38th week

And finally, the process of forming a person has finally ended - now he is completely ready for birth, and obstetricians consider the pregnancy to be full-term. Lanugo completely disappears from his body and can only sometimes remain on his arms and legs. Since there is almost no space left in the uterus, it may seem to the mother that the child has begun to move more intensively, but in fact, the force of the blows has increased, because the child’s muscles have already completely formed and strengthened. nine0003

39th–40th week


The first minutes after birth.

The lungs of a child continue to form until the very birth, and only at the time of birth they release the right amount of surfactant - a substance that prevents the alveoli from sticking together after the first independent breath. Very soon, the baby will announce its birth with the first cry and begin its long journey through a large and interesting world. nine0003

show all

Taste development in babies: what do they like best?

The improvement of taste sensations in a small child is as intense as the development of all other senses. The first year of life is a decisive time that can predetermine a person's taste preferences in the future.

In a small child, acquaintance with the world and the acquisition of basic skills is directly related to the development of the senses - hearing, sight, touch, smell and taste. From birth, the baby has basic sensory abilities that will improve throughout the first years of life. Subsequently, the active development of the nervous system, and hence the brain and the perception system, will provide him with a confident and accurate control of his feelings and sensations.

How many flavors does our tongue recognize? Sweet, sour, salty, bitter. Now, to these four main tastes, one more has officially been added, the fifth one is protein or umami (from the Japanese word "umai" - tasty, pleasant). This taste is typical for meat, fish and broths based on them. nine0003

Before birth

Cells capable of detecting various tastes begin to develop from the seventh week of pregnancy, and by the thirteenth week they are fully functional. At the sixth month of pregnancy, the baby swallows and "inhales" a large amount of amniotic fluid, the taste of which changes depending on what the pregnant woman eats.

MRI techniques have allowed specialists to learn more about the taste preferences of the embryo. For example, he swallows amniotic fluid faster if it tastes sweeter due to his mother's glucose intake. This is a sign that he likes the sweet taste more. nine0003

This is how, by swallowing amniotic fluid, the child experiences for the first time what is called taste sensations, which come to him through the mouth and nose. Indeed, the foods that a woman eats change the taste and smell of the amniotic fluid. This exposure introduces the baby to the mother's eating habits.

When a child is born, he already has some experience of recognizing the different tastes that will be part of his eating habits. For example, babies whose mothers ate a lot of carrots in the last month of pregnancy are likely to prefer this product. nine0003

Taste of the newborn

After birth, the baby continues to experience the tastes of his mother's food through breast milk. Breastfed children agree to try different foods faster and more easily than those who ate artificial mixtures. Eating habits acquired during breastfeeding may persist into older age.

Experts refer to breast milk as a "bridge" that links the period of intrauterine development, when the baby received information about the taste of foods through the amniotic fluid, and the time of introduction of complementary foods. nine0003


From the first days of life, the baby prefers certain tastes. Favorite is sweet. Feeling the sweet taste, the newborn smiles, licks his lips and begins to make sucking movements. The sweet taste makes the child feel comfortable and safe. This calming effect is especially important in the first weeks of life.

Love for sweets is a big plus for a child's development. She allows him to eat with pleasure, which means that in sufficient quantities, the first food product in his life is breast milk. Sweet and fatty milk contains more calories, which is very useful for an actively growing body. nine0003


Bitter taste causes the strongest disgust reaction in the baby. Bitterness is created by plant toxin molecules and triggers defensive behavior. If you offer something bitter to a baby, he will spit it out and scream - this is an innate reaction, as well as sucking, swallowing, salivation. The last three reactions are directed towards eating, and the reaction to a bitter taste is directed towards rejection of inedible foods.

In addition, the signal associated with these reactions is transmitted to the hypothalamus, to the center of negative emotions, which gives rise to a strong negative experience. The feeling of bitterness is indeed a signal that the food is inedible. nine0003

An immune response to bitter taste has recently been described. It turns out that the receptors responsible for recognizing bitter not only cause taste sensations, but also activate the immune system. Therefore, it is correct when the medicine has a bitter taste - this is how it additionally activates the immune system, which will complement the action of the active substance of the medicine.

Salty, sour, fatty

But the baby reacts poorly to salty. Baby will like salted water closer to 4 months. The sour taste and the taste of umami (the taste of meat, fish and broths based on them) cause intermediate reactions. nine0003

The greasy taste seems to be more to the children's taste. It is noticed that newborns drink more breast milk of high fat content.

Although most babies like certain tastes, every baby has their own preferences. Some genetic traits can influence taste recognition.

How taste preferences change

Distinguishing tastes (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umami) occurs through taste buds located on the tongue, mouth and throat. At birth, a child has more taste buds than an adult, so the baby perceives tastes sharply. nine0003

Smell and vision also play an important role in shaping food preferences.

During the first year of life, the child mainly eats sweet food - breast milk. Breast milk is a source of various tastes and aromas, and this affects the development of taste sensations and contributes to the full formation of eating behavior.

Starting at 6 months, as complementary foods are introduced, the baby begins to become familiar with other taste sensations. Complementary foods should be introduced in a timely manner and include all food groups in accordance with age. Diversity in nutrition is very beneficial for a child. The sooner he learns to recognize different tastes, the better he can develop his sensory system. “Experienced” children are less likely to refuse to try unfamiliar foods and new dishes in the future. nine0003

Taste preferences are influenced by both genetic factors and the environment in which the child grows up and the environment in which eating takes place. At the age of up to one and a half years, the child quite easily agrees to try any offered products. If the food is tasty and the child likes it, then he feels good. Such food evokes positive emotions.

The foods that your baby will be introduced to in the first 18 months will determine their gastronomic preferences in adulthood. nine0003

In other words, children remember the characteristic taste of the product at a very early age, and the memory of it remains for a long time, influencing the formation of taste preferences in the future. Therefore, try to open different tastes for the baby, even if at first they did not impress him.

The foundations of eating behavior are laid from early childhood under the influence of parents and close relatives, who, with a competent approach, can teach even the most fastidious child to eat properly.

Learn more