As the incidence of childhood obesity rises in the U.S., Kim Trout of Georgetown University might have discovered a possible solution.  Trout, a director of the nurse/midwifery, women’s health program at Georgetown, recently reviewed a paper on prenatal flavor learning. What exactly is prenatal flavor learning? It is a concept that suggests that foods eaten by a pregnant woman can influence her unborn baby’s choice of foods in the future. According to research at the National Institute of Health (NIH), the taste buds of the fetus become mature between 13 to 15 weeks. The flavors of the food that mothers eat appear in the amniotic fluid and breast milk that is swallowed by the fetus and can influence future preference of food. Why is that important? Because you can introduce a baby to healthy food choices before it is born through repeat exposure.  When children eat healthy foods, their choices help reduce the incidence of obesity and diabetes.

Trout has begun incorporating the concept of prenatal flavor learning into the curriculum of midwifery and nurse practitioner students. She also encourages her patients to have a broad food selection and of course, eat healthy food. A recent article in the Washington Post gives an historical perspective of children’s food preferences. Their desire for sweets evolved because sweet-tasting foods are high in energy. They like salty foods because there is a need for minerals. They reject bitter foods because most poisonous substances taste bitter. There is a recommendation for pregnant women to introduce their unborn babies to slightly bitter foods so that they will be more inclined to eat vegetables when begin eating solid foods.

Researchers think that prenatal flavor learning can prepare babies for the food of their culture. Can babies acquire the taste of eating fast foods and fried foods? According to research, they can. Trout even cites her own experiences describing how she ate chicken wings while she was pregnant with her son and he has acquired that habit. On the contrary, when she was pregnant with her daughter, she ate healthy and so does her daughter.

The old adage “we are what we eat” holds true. Before you reach for that fast food hamburger, imagine that your baby is reaching for it too.

Remember, a healthy pregnancy doesn’t just happen. It takes a smart mother who knows what to do.