If a mother consumes large quantities of carrot juice, will the baby like the taste of carrot? This is not a silly question. If food preferences can be shaped while still in the womb, it is possible that interventions may be successful at changing food preferences (as has been shown in previous research).
To seek answers to this question, Julia Manella and her colleagues at the Monell Chemical Senses Center asked expecting mothers to drink approximately one and a quarter cups of either water or carrot juice a total of four times a week for three consecutive weeks during the last trimester of their pregnancy.
Six months after the babies were born, and during the time in which the mothers had started giving the infants cereal, Manella brought the babies into the lab to observe their eating behaviors. The results showed that the infants whose mothers had consumed carrot juice during their pregnancy tended to look happier while eating a carrot-flavored cereal and actually consumed more of the cereal than the infants whose mothers had only consumed water.
How exactly did this happen? The researchers say the findings might be “attributable to the experimental effect of carrot juice in amniotic fluid or mothers’ milk.” They also say “very early flavor experiences provide the foundation for cultural and ethnic differences in cuisine.” For example, by exposing her fetus to a vegetable-rich diet, a mother may actually be introducing her fetus to a culture of vegetable consumption.
While more research is needed to better understand how this process unfolds, clearly this is an important study that highlights the fact that learning does not begin at birth. Learning begins in the womb.