The baby won’t be chowing down on solid foods for many months, it’s never too soon to start exposing her to a variety of tastes. In fact, your baby’s sense of taste starts developing early in pregnancy. She tastes what you taste — and research has shown that the foods you consume during this time help shape what your baby will enjoy eating, even years later.
TASTE STARTS WITH THE TASTE BUDS
During the first two months of pregnancy, neurons (i.e., brain cells) start to branch off the main part of your baby’s growing brain to different areas of the body, including your baby’s mouth. At the same time, taste buds begin forming where your baby’s tongue will be. These clusters of receptors will eventually recognize five tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami. By week 8 of pregnancy, neurons from the brain will have connected with these developing taste buds. But your baby can’t quite taste the surrounding amniotic fluid yet: He or she still needs taste pores or small pits on the surface of the tongue that allows the molecules from food to come in contact with the taste receptors that make up taste buds.
By around week 16, these taste pores will have developed. By now, your baby will also have started swallowing amniotic fluid. As the fluid flows across her tongue on the way to her digestive system, molecules in the fluid will interact with the taste buds, and your baby will experience her first taste: salty amniotic fluid. The amount of amniotic fluid she swallows — and the number of tastes she has exposure to — will keep increasing throughout the second and third trimesters. By week 21, she’ll be swallowing several ounces a day.
WHAT YOU TASTE, YOUR BABY TASTES
Even though your digestive system is separate from your baby’s, molecules of the food you eat make their way into the amniotic fluid — not only vitamins, minerals, fats and proteins, but also some of the molecules that give foods their unique tastes. The flavours your baby tastes inside the womb, though, won’t be quite as strong or distinct as those you taste. That’s because much of what you think of as the flavour of a food is actually its smell, which is transmitted to your nose through the air. Since your baby is surrounded by amniotic fluid, she only tastes molecules from your bloodstream and doesn’t have the sense of smell yet to amplify those flavours. But even with this blunted sense of taste, your baby will start to recognize foods. Eat a spicy meal and you might even feel her hiccup!
ENCOURAGING A BROAD PALATE
Research has shown that the foods you eat during pregnancy influence the foods that your baby will like for years to come. Mothers who drank carrot juice during the last trimester of pregnancy had babies who, once they started weaning, made fewer negative faces when fed carrot juice. Pregnant ladies that ate lots of junk food and had diets high in fat, salt and sugar gave birth to babies who preferred these foods and disliked healthy foods. Some scientists say that the foods you eat during pregnancy could literally shape your baby’s eating habits — and her odds of obesity and diabetes — throughout the rest of her life.
So what flavours should you expose your baby to during pregnancy? Aim to eat a balanced and varied diet, and choose fresh fruits and vegetables over salty, processed snacks. This not only helps keep you healthy during pregnancy, but it also sets the stage for your baby to love healthy, diverse tastes. And don’t shy away from eating flavorful foods that you enjoy and want your baby to learn to like, too: Distinct flavours like garlic, mint and curry are among those that are transmitted most strongly through your amniotic fluid.