Pregnant women are known for their food cravings. From pickles to milkshakes, expectant mothers focus on little else when a craving strikes. And, we all know about foods to avoid while pregnant. But, what about the baby? Does an unborn child have a preference between the different foods the mother consumes? And really, we all want to know — can a fetus taste?
About 100 pregnant women participated in a study in England to answer the question. Each fetus was between 32 and 36 weeks of gestation, just four to eight weeks shy of a full-term pregnancy.
Researchers sought to capture the fetus’ response to flavors. Each participating mother would consume a capsule with dehydrated or powdered foods: carrots or kale. As part of the study, 35 women took the carrot capsule — containing about one medium carrot. Another 34 women took the kale capsule — of about 100 grams of chopped kale. And, 30 women took a placebo capsule as a control for the study.
After nearly a half hour, each woman underwent a 4D ultrasound to capture any reactions from the fetuses.
Can a fetus taste? This study says, yes.
Leading the Fetal and Neonatal Research Lab at Durham University, Nadja Reissland co-authored the study. “We are the first ones who could actually show on an ultrasound scan the facial expressions in relation to the food which the mother has just consumed,” Reissland told NBC News.
But, how is this possible since nutrients pass from the mother to the fetus via the umbilical cord? In utero, there’s no food going into the fetus’ mouth.
Another study, published in 2019 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed that the amniotic fluid surrounding a fetus can pick up smells and flavors related to the mother’s diet.