Durham scientists find babies 'smile' for carrots while in the womb - and they cry too

The 'laughing' and 'crying' facial expressions observed by Durham University researchers. Picture: Fetal and Neonatal Research Lab/Durham University
The 'laughing' and 'crying' facial expressions observed by Durham University researchers. Picture: Fetal and Neonatal Research Lab/Durham University

Scientists have discovered that unborn babies react to food their mothers eat - smiling when they taste or smell carrots but grimacing for greens - which may have an impact on how children's eating habits are formed.

Experts from Durham University have used 4D ultrasound scans to observe foetuses responding to the flavours of foods eaten by their mothers.

This research could have an impact on our understanding of how human taste and smell receptors develop, as well as how eating during pregnancy could shape babies' taste preferences.

Read more: Therese Coffey announces new NHS England plans, including new staffing measures

Scientists think that this knowledge could be leveraged to establish healthy habits in children.

The paper, published by postgraduate student Beyza Ustin and co-authors found evidence that babies react differently to various bitter and non-bitter tastes, such as carrots and kale, with 'laughing' and 'crying' facial expressions respectively.

Professor Nadja Reissland, the head of the Fetal and Neonatal Research Lab, and paper co-author said: “This latest study could have important implications for understanding the earliest evidence for foetal abilities to sense and discriminate different flavours and smells from the foods ingested by their mothers.”

Beyza Ustun, who led the research, explains its importance: "Our study is the first to see taste and smell reactions prior to birth.

"As a result, we think that this repeated exposure to flavours 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."

Read more: UK Meteor Network identifies mysterious fireball as meteor

Research co-author Professor Jackie Blissett, of Aston University, said "Exposing the foetus to less ‘liked’ flavours, such as kale, might mean they get used to those flavours in utero.

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

Read next: 

York jewellers Mappin and Webb closes on Sam Diatta's funeral

Teesside drivers stuck in queues after A19 white van crash

Mary Kelly Foy MP and councillor in fight over litter in River Wear

If you want to read more great stories, why not subscribe to The Northern Echo for as little as £1.25 a week. Click here.