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How mothers can make baby foodies - in utero

Will Madison have the oxtail terrine, or the rabbit ragu?

New research finds parents can influence a baby's tastes and food memories before they are born, prompting the dreadful scenario that overzealous parents who already blast Mozart post-conception will now be breeding food snobs in utero.

Babies can taste what their mothers ingest at 21 weeks after conception through the amniotic fluid, which surrounds the baby and is flavored by the foods mom ate several hours prior.

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"Things like vanilla, carrot, garlic, anise, mint — these are some of the flavors that have been shown to be transmitted to amniotic fluid or mother's milk," Julie Mennella, a researcher who looks at taste in infants at Philadelphia's Monell Chemical Senses Center, told NPR.

With rabbit experiments in mind, Dr. Mennella decided to see if memories of flavours could be formed before birth in humans. She and her colleagues had one group of women drink carrot juice daily throughout their pregnancies and another during breastfeeding only. Another group was to abstain from carrots altogether. When the children started eating solid food, the researchers fed them cereal made with carrot juice, videotaping their responses.

"And just like the European rabbit, the babies who had experienced carrot in amniotic fluid or mother's milk ate more of the carrot-flavored cereal," and made fewer "negative faces while eating it," Dr. Mennella said.

She thinks it's evolutionary, and a cultural boon: "As a stimulus, it's providing so much information to that baby about who they are as a family and what are the foods their family enjoys and appreciates."

"Always exciting to find that there are more ways to fight the stranglehold of the chicken nugget!" chirped Kristen Miglore, senior editor at the blog food52.

Still, the notion that a discerning palate could be painstakingly molded before birth has had some parents wincing.

"I'm worried about how this article can be construed as another reason for expectant moms to feel pressure/guilt, as if they should be taking responsibility/blame for their child's finicky eating habits before the kid is even born," wrote one commenter on NPR.

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"It's hard enough to maintain a well-rounded diet amidst the strange cravings and taste aversions that occur during pregnancy to have to also be preoccupied with your unborn's flavour experience."

Wrote another: "Perhaps mom's behaviours have some slight influence, but a mom who is stressed about her child's well-being would be better off getting a prenatal massage than choking down a meal she doesn't want to eat."

This mom doubted the findings because her fraternal twins had enjoyed the same amniotic fluid and been nursed for 20 months.

"I'm pretty sure they were exposed to identical foods in utero and for those 20 months thereafter – yet their tastes are quite different. One loves fruits and veggies. The other is a cheerful carnivore who eschews all plant matter except strawberries."

Expectant moms, would you give up junky cravings based on the findings? Does your parenting experience echo the research?

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