These Fascinating Scans Present Infants Reacting In The Womb To What Mum Eats

If you’re pregnant, you really are eating for two. Babies in the womb react to what their mothers eat, new research has found. And kale really isn’t popular.

For the first time, scientists have recorded evidence of babies reacting to various smells and tastes in the womb by recording their facial expressions.

Unborn babies appear to grimace when they taste and smell greens, but smile for carrots.

Experts from Durham University took 4D ultrasound scans of 100 pregnant women to study how their unborn babies responded after being exposed to flavors from foods eaten by their mothers.

They looked at how the fetuses reacted to either carrot or kale flavors a short time after the flavors had been ingested by the mothers.

Foetuses exposed to carrot showed more ‘laughter-face’ responses while those exposed to kale showed more ‘cry-face’ responses.

FETAP (Fetal Taste Preferences) StudyPA

A 4D scan of a fetus showing a neutral face (top) and the same fetus showing a laughter-face reaction (bottom), after being exposed to the carrot flavor.

Their findings could further develop our understanding of how human taste and smell receptors, the university’s Fetal and Neonatal Research Lab said.

Researchers also believe what mothers eat during pregnancy could influence babies’ taste preferences after birth and might have implications for establishing healthy eating habits in children.

It is thought fetuses experience flavor by inhaling and swallowing amniotic fluid in the womb.

Postgraduate Beyza Ustun, who led the research, said: “A number of studies have suggested that babies can taste and smell in the womb, but they are based on post-birth outcomes while our study is the first to see these reactions prior to birth .

“As a result, 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

“It was really amazing to see unborn babies’ reaction to kale or carrot flavors during the scans and share those moments with their parents.”

FETAP (Fetal Taste Preferences) StudyPA

A 4D scan of a fetus showing a neutral face (top) and the same fetus showing a cry-face reaction (bottom), after being exposed to the kale flavor.

Mothers were scanned at 32 and 36 weeks pregnancy to see fetal facial reactions to the kale and carrot flavors. They mums were given a single capsule containing approximately 400mg of carrot or 400mg kale powder around 20 minutes before each scan and did not consumer anything with a flavor for an hour before.

Facial reactions seen in both flavor groups, compared with fetuses in a control group who were not exposed to either flavor, showed that exposure to just a small amount of carrot or kale flavor was enough to stimulate a reaction.

Co-author Professor Nadja Reissland, who heads the Fetal and Neonatal Research Lab, has previously studied 4D scans to show the impact of smoking during pregnancy.

She said: “This latest study could have important implications for understanding the earliest evidence for fetal abilities to sense and discriminate different flavors and smells from the foods ingested by their mothers.”

Research co-author Professor Jackie Blissett, of Aston University, said: “It could be argued that repeated prenatal flavor exposures may lead to preferences for those flavors experienced postnatally.

“In other words, exposing the fetus to less ‘liked’ flavors, such as kale, might mean they get used to those flavors in utero.

“The next step is to examine whether fetuses show less ‘negative’ responses to these flavors over time, resulting in greater acceptance of those flavors when babies first taste them outside of the womb.”

The study is published in the journal Psychological Science.

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