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

·2-min read
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.

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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."

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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.”

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