Prenatal and Postnatal Flavor Learning by Human Infants
Julie A. Mennella, Coren P. Jagnow, and Gary K. Beauchamp
From the Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Flavors from the mother's diet during pregnancy are transmitted to amniotic fluid and swallowed by the fetus. Consequently, the types of food eaten by women during pregnancy and, hence, the flavor principles of their culture may be experienced by the infants before their first exposure to solid foods.
Some of these same flavors will later be experienced by infants in breast milk, a liquid that, like amniotic fluid, comprises flavors that directly reflect the foods, spices, and beverages eaten by the mother.
The present study tested the hypothesis that experience with a flavor in amniotic fluid or breast milk modifies the infants' acceptance and enjoyment of similarly flavored foods at weaning.
Pregnant women who planned on breastfeeding their infants were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 groups. The women consumed either 300 mL of carrot juice or water for 4 days per week for 3 consecutive weeks during the last trimester of pregnancy and then again during the first 2 months of lactation. The mothers in 1 group drank carrot juice during pregnancy and water during lactation; mothers in a second group drank water during pregnancy and carrot juice during lactation, whereas those in the control group drank water during both pregnancy and lactation. Approximately 4 weeks after the mothers began complementing their infants' diet with cereal and before the infants had ever been fed foods or juices containing the flavor of carrots, the infants were videotaped as they fed, in counterbalanced order, cereal prepared with water during 1 test session and cereal prepared with carrot juice during another. Immediately after each session, the mothers rated their infants' enjoyment of the food on a 9-point scale.
The results demonstrated that the infants who had exposure to the flavor of carrots in either amniotic fluid or breast milk behaved differently in response to that flavor in a food base than did nonexposed control infants.
Specifically, previously exposed infants exhibited fewer negative facial expressions while feeding the carrot-flavored cereal compared with the plain cereal, whereas control infants whose mothers drank water during pregnancy and lactation exhibited no such difference.
Moreover, those infants who were exposed to carrots prenatally were perceived by their mothers as enjoying the carrot-flavored cereal more compared with the plain cereal. Although these same tendencies were observed for the amount of cereal consumed and the length of the feeds, these findings were not statistically significant.
Prenatal and early postnatal exposure to a flavor enhanced the infants' enjoyment of that flavor in solid foods during weaning. These very early flavor experiences may provide the foundation for cultural and ethnic differences in cuisine. Key words: infant nutrition, prenatal, lactation, weaning, flavor, development, preferences.