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What foods and flavors will your baby like and dislike? Genetics are key, but other factors play a role – maybe even what you eat during pregnancy! Here's when and how your baby develops the sense of taste.
Early development of the tongue and taste buds
Your baby's tongue and the roof of her mouth (palate) start taking shape when you're 6 weeks pregnant. At 11 weeks, primitive taste buds appear, but they're not yet able to transmit actual taste sensations. That won't begin to happen until weeks 13 to 15, when nerve cells start making connections between the developing buds and the nerves that send taste messages to your baby's brain.
By about 20 weeks, many of your baby's taste buds – and their nerve connections – are fully formed and operational.
Your baby's ability to taste
The senses of smell and taste are very closely connected. Taste buds enable us to tell if something is sweet or bitter, salty, or sour, but smell helps us identify the specific flavor of food. The special olfactory cells that your baby needs for her sense of smell start developing at about 10 weeks of pregnancy.
It's true that molecules of the food you eat pass through your bloodstream and into the amniotic fluid. But your baby can't detect their flavors and scents.
So don't be worried that the extra-hot salsa you're craving will be too intense for your baby – there's no evidence that spicy food can harm your baby. (It might, however, make you uncomfortable: Hot and spicy foods can aggravate heartburn, a common complaint during pregnancy.)
At birth, your baby's new taste buds are very sensitive, and she can taste sweet, sour, and bitter flavors. She prefers sweet, which is one reason she loves the taste of your breast milk. Your baby probably won't develop a reaction to salty foods until she's close to 6 months old.
Influencing your baby's flavor preferences
Can what you eat during pregnancy influence the flavors your baby will enjoy later in life? Some research indicates yes. In a small study of 46 pregnant women, those who drank carrot juice during the last weeks of pregnancy and while they were breastfeeding had babies who appeared to prefer carrot-flavored cereal over plain cereal at 6 months of age.
Experiments also have been done with garlic, anise (a licorice-flavored spice), mint, and vanilla. Infants who were exposed to these tastes in the womb tended to prefer these flavors both in breast milk and in solid food.
What you can do during pregnancy
Starting about halfway through pregnancy, the foods you eat may influence which flavors your child will prefer. Try to eat a diet that's as varied and healthy as possible. Just keep in mind the basic food safety rules for pregnancy (no runny eggs or unpasteurized cheese, for example).
Key milestones in fetal taste development
|6 weeks||The tongue and roof of the mouth (palate) start to form.|
|11 weeks||Primitive taste buds appear.|
|13 to 15 weeks||Nerves from taste buds begin connecting to the brain.|
|20 weeks||Many taste buds are able to transmit taste signals to the brain.|
|Birth||Your baby can taste sweet, sour, and bitter flavors. Reactions to salty foods come later, usually by 6 months.|