What Babies Learn In the Womb
They're doing and thinking a lot more than we used to believe
A pregnant woman really is eating for two, and the quality of what she eats matters as much as the quantity. Taste buds develop in a fetus around the seventh or eighth week and, by week 14, there is some evidence to suggest he can taste bitter, sweet, or sour flavors in the amniotic fluid. As with his other senses, he uses taste to explore the womb around him. Ultrasounds have even shown that fetuses lick the placenta and uterine wall.
Studies indicate that the flavors and aromas of the foods mom eats during pregnancy, which pass through to her amniotic fluid, may affect her baby's taste preferences long after birth. "The more varied a mother's diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding, the more likely that the infant will accept a new food," says Julie Mennella, Ph.D., biopsychologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, in Philadelphia. Studies have also found that breastfed babies are more willing than those who were formula-fed to consume a new food when they get older. "This could be because they've learned to accept the many different flavors that have passed through the mother's digestive system to her breast milk," says Mennella.
A Nose for Mom
An unborn baby not only tastes foods, but can smell them as well. Doctors have noted that, at birth, amniotic fluid sometimes carries the scent of cumin, garlic, fennel, and other spices a mother has eaten while pregnant. Amniotic fluid, which babies swallow and breathe in during their time in utero, not only has the smells of the foods mom eats, but of mom herself.
That, in fact, may be how newborns recognize their mothers. "It's possible that in the first few hours after birth, a baby's sense of smell may be more important in helping him identify his mother than his vision is," says Mennella. In fact, studies have shown that if a mother washes just one breast right after birth, the baby will prefer to nurse at the other, unwashed breast. (This is why some doctors advise new mothers not to shower until at least after the first feeding -- to allow their natural aroma to help establish breastfeeding.)