baby’s first bites begin in utero
key insights into building your baby’s nutritional intelligence
We all know that eating healthy during pregnancy will help your baby to grow and flourish while in the womb. But you may be surprised to learn that you can impact baby’s taste preferences before they reach the highchair or even start nursing! In fact, your baby’s first forays into “taste development” begin in utero with everything that mom eats. Just eight weeks after conception, your baby is beginning to develop taste buds. By the third trimester, your baby will have more taste buds than at any other point in their lives! While in the womb, babies get most of their nutrition through the umbilical cord, but they also swallow and digest their moms’ amniotic fluid. In fact, 10-20% of the protein a baby consumes comes from what she drinks.¹ And studies show that a mother’s amniotic fluid has distinctive flavors related to what she has been eating and drinking. There isn’t a single flavor that researchers have found that doesn’t show up in utero. And babies actually remember flavors from their time in the womb and may show preferences towards them after birth. This process explains why adopted infants, who have left their native cultures, innately prefer their native cuisines years later, even though they may never have actually eaten them in the conventional sense. Dr. Greene describes this pre-birth chapter as the beginning of a baby’s "Nutritional Intelligence," an intelligence that may help her choose healthy food later in life. Simply stated, cultivating Nutritional Intelligence is about developing babies’ palates from the earliest stage, helping them to “recognize and love healthy amounts of healthy foods.” Your baby can learn to appreciate and recognize the flavors of healthy food starting in the second trimester, when they develop highly sensitive taste buds. Your baby’s taste buds allow her to learn the rich, diverse flavors of delicious food from all food groups. Since babies learn by imprinting and through repetition, pregnancy is a great opportunity for you to cook meals with whole ingredients, herbs and spices, and favorite healthy foods that you want your child to love. If you have a special love for creamy avocados, pungent cheese, or tart lemons during pregnancy, your baby may show preferential treatment to those familiar flavors down the road.
At birthYour baby will show a preference for sweet flavors, with a “sweet tooth” best satiated by the naturally sweet taste of breast milk. Please check with your physician but new research even suggests that baby’s exposure to breast milk and amniotic fluid can positively impact her reaction to common allergens, decreasing the likelihood of developing allergies. Dr. Greene recommends you enjoy nuts, cooked eggs and other potential allergens while pregnant and nursing. It may actually help your baby!
1Pitkin, R., and Reynolds, W.A. “Fetal Ingestion and Metabolism of Amniotic Fluid Protein.” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Oct. 15, 1975, 123(4): 356-363