Durham researchers find babies ‘smile’ for carrots while in the womb

Durham researchers find babies ‘smile’ for carrots while in the womb


The “laughing” and “crying” facial expressions observed by Durham University researchers. Image: Fetal and Neonatal Research Lab/Durham University

Researchers have discovered that unborn babies react to the food their mothers eat – smiling when they taste or smell carrots, but grimacing after 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 fetuses reacting to the taste of food 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 can shape babies’ taste preferences.

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Researchers believe that this knowledge can be used to establish healthy habits in children.

The paper, published by PhD student Beyza Ustin and co-authors, found evidence that babies respond differently to different 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 co-author of the paper said: “This latest study may have important implications for understanding the earliest evidence of the fetus’s ability to sense and discriminate different tastes and smells from the food ingested. Their mothers.”

Beyza Ustun, who led the research, explains its significance: “Our study is the first to look at taste and smell reactions before birth.

“As a result, we believe that this repeated exposure to flavors before birth may help establish food preferences after birth, which may be important when considering healthy food messaging and the potential to avoid ‘food mass’ during weaning.”

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Research co-author Professor Jackie Blissett, from Aston University, said “Exposing the fetus to less ‘liked’ tastes, such as kale, could mean they become used to those tastes in the womb.

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

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