Dr. Geeta Sundar, MBBS.

“I love okra. You know, with all the spicy ingredients, the curry is fabulous to my taste buds. Thing is, my son is crazy about okra too! I reckon I ate a lot of that when I was pregnant. Maybe it just got transferred to him…”

Research in the last few years has suggested the same.
Flavours from the mother’s diet during pregnancy and lactation have shown to have a very strong influence on the young one’s diet. Science has shown that flavours from the mother’s intake, is transmitted to the amniotic fluid, which is swallowed by the foetus.
But it’s not only during pregnancy. During lactation, those same elements of concoctions in the mother’s food and beverages, transfers to the breast milk and is what impacts the infant’s choices and modifies their acceptance and enjoyment of similar foods at weaning.
So, in reality, much before the baby is born and fed solid food, it is exposed to a wide variety of tart, sour, sweet, aroma, essence, zest, salt, tang and spicy extracts.
But the bigger picture is not just the taste and how it influences the baby’s fancy. It’s what that taste does to the growing baby! When bared to the diverse pick of available tastes, the baby forms memories of those cuisines and retains them for long. These memories are what form the basis for a baby’s likes and inclinations. Hence, if the mom eats sprouts during pregnancy and lactation, there is a very good chance her baby will like it.

Actress Marion Cotillard, once stated when she was pregnant in 2016, that, “I wanted to eat things I didn’t like. I was very worried that my kid would be conditioned in this world anyway, but then he could have many choices, even the things I don’t like. So everything I didn’t like I tried to feed myself with to give him more choices.”

However, when comparing to the evolutionary timeline, this fact makes complete sense. Mothers tend to feed their babies what they eat themselves and it is speculated that it is nature’s way of inculcating family tastes and traditions into an infant’s life. Thinking ahead, it also explains why children born into a culture can stand that taste and may refuse or avert from tastes of other cultural cuisines.

Inquisitive scientists in Denmark tried to identify what concentration of mother’s diet actually made its way into the breast milk. They found that licorice and caraway seed flavours peaked strongly in two hours after intake. Mint appeared at lower concentrations but peaked at six hours after ingestion, although, banana, never made it into the breast milk.

Another set of researchers in Australia, on working on rat models, found that after exposure to junk food in the womb, and through breast milk, brain reward pathways became desensitised to those foods – similar to when drug addicts need increasing doses of drugs to obtain the desired hit.

Short-term alcohol consumption by lactating women was studied by a research panel. They found that alcohol use significantly and uniformly increased the perceived intensity of the odour of the breast milk. The infants were found to suck more frequently during the first minute of feedings after their mothers had consumed alcohol, but they consumed significantly less milk.

During infancy and childhood, kids are receptive to sensory and cognitive learning, and the behaviours established in this period are what carry on for future food behaviours. Babies are said to be born with very few hard and fast taste preferences, and breastfed infants tend to have a more adventurous palate and it is around the age of two-five months that mothers can use to ‘prime’ their children’s taste buds. And thus the importance of breast milk, in addition to it being an immune booster is established – for, exposure to different tastes during early life has an impact on prospective food habits, whereas typical formula milk is bland and doesn’t cater to a wider acceptance of tastes.

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