Some of the research I find fascinating includes the research that studies how a mother’s diet while pregnant and breastfeeding affects her child. There is a whole world of research about nutrition, but there is also research about how a mother’s diet affects her child’s taste buds later in life.
They have found that a wide variety of flavors are found in amniotic fluid during pregnancy, and that certain foods can flavor breast milk as well. One study found that children nursed longer and consumed more breast milk when it was garlic flavored from a mother’s diet! Babies don't like bland food after all. Since we now know that flavor does transfer from a mother’s diet, more research has taken place to see what affect that reality has on child’s food preferences.
One study concluded that “breastfeeding facilitates acceptance of novel flavors. This effect is not necessarily due to exposure to specific flavor compounds.” This gives us another reason to encourage breastfeeding, when possible. Although this study didn’t find that it was necessarily from flavor compounds in the mother’s diet that facilitated this openness to new foods, it did show a positive correlation between breastfeed and novel flavors.
But an Australian study found that the longer a woman breastfeed, the more variety her children would eat. The researchers felt that this was due to early and repeated exposure to different flavors through breast milk that helped positively shape their child’s food preferences and food variety.
A German study found that early exposure to vanilla influenced food preferences later in life.
Yet another study found that when carrot juice was given to pregnant and than nursing mothers consistently, and then carrot flavored cereal was given to their babies, that the carrot drinking mother’s children seemed to enjoy their carrot flavored cereal more than the control group. In other words, introducing that flavor (carrots) to the mothers diet in a significant way during pregnancy and lactation made babies more able to enjoy that flavor when introduced to them in food form.
On a personal note, while this could be related to other factors, I found that my two daughters’ food preferences appeared to be heavily influenced by my diet during the nursing period. With my first I was on a very strict anti-sugar, even anti-fruit, diet for a significant chunk of time while nursing her. To my surprise my daughter, when introduced to food, had a clear preference for savory food, and wasn’t very interested in sweet food. While she certainly loves sweets now, she still often finds store-bought sweets “too sweet” for her.
On the other hand, when my youngest daughter was nursing I was a lot less strict with my diet, and my husband and I had a whole ice cream (organic, with good ingredients) tradition going. In fact, at one point, it was a nightly tradition, as I was a starving nursing mother. And guess what her favorite food is? Ice cream. And she definitely has loved sweets from the get go.
These studies suggest to me that my gut feeling was right about my two daughters; My diet while breastfeeding them helped shape their food preferences.
So what do I take away from these studies?
Two things: First, I try to eat a wide variety of foods and flavors during my pregnancy and breastfeeding years. It’s fun for me, and it helps my children get introduced to new flavors. Secondly, I try to eat a healthy diet, so that it is easier for them to enjoy the same once they start eating.
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