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There seems to be two disconnected claims (1) whether or not babies can addicted to the nutrients they're exposed to, like an excess of fats., and (2) whether or not a fetus can taste things the mother eats.

A fetus connects the mother's placenta (which only passes nutrients) to the abdomen which is downstream of the mouth where the taste buds are located. It would seem like this is impossible, but at least a few sites seem to have an explanation of it, like babycenter.com

Amniotic fluid surrounds your baby in utero. He naturally breathes and swallows this fluid, which helps with the development of his lungs and digestive system. The flavors of the food you eat and what you drink pass through your bloodstream and into the amniotic fluid.

Is there evidence of this? Does your food flavor the amniotic fluid which a fetus can taste, and if so is it correct to say that fetus can taste the mother's food?

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  • I've read in a few places that in utero is where most epigenetic response is triggered. Sounds related to this question. As for tasting the fluid...idk.
    – fredsbend
    Jan 10 at 1:45
  • given that the fetus gets all nutrients through the placenta, this seems highly unlikely. But would be interesting to see if someone can find a definitive answer one way or the other (I'd guess the fluids in the womb may end up containing some remnants of the food the mother consumes that can affect the fetus's taste buds).
    – jwenting
    Jan 10 at 9:04
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    there is multiple problems with this - 'taste': ask any five-year old about the taste of anything, and/or the similarities/differences to the taste of something else, and you might be able to extrapolate what 'taste' might mean for a fetus. 'the flavors': would any be sufficient, or does this mean all flavors, possibly even in the same proportion? highly unlikely, given the very different solubilities
    – bukwyrm
    Jan 11 at 9:13
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    my partner craved Naan bread when pregnant and resulting daughter went creazy at six months old when she saw/smelt naan bread - it was her first food. She's still a bread addict Jan 11 at 14:21
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    One thing that would be useful to look at is at what stage of development do the taste buds arise? Are they present shortly after the tongue forms? Do they only appear shortly before birth? Something others might want to search on. Jan 11 at 22:45
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There is partial evidence supporting this.

Specifically, there is evidence that the food pregnant women eat during pregnancy may affect their children’s food preferences during their childhood. For example, the study “Long-term flavor recognition in humans with prenatal garlic experience” (Hepper et al, Developmental Sychobiology, 2012) tested how much garlic-flavored potato gratin was consumed by two groups of children aged 8-9: one group whose mothers were told to consume garlic during pregnancy, and another whose mothers were not. As the study’s abstract says:

Children prenatally exposed to garlic ate significantly more garlic flavored potato and a significantly greater overall amount of potato on trial 2, compared to controls. The results demonstrate prenatal experience may affect behavior well into childhood.

This study and others like it do not seem to prove that the altered food preference in children based on what their mothers ate during pregnancy is caused specifically by the fetus being able to taste flavors in amniotic fluid. But these findings are certainly consistent with the idea that the knowledge of what food the pregnant mother eats is passed to the fetus somehow; it seems reasonable to speculate that tasting flavors in the amniotic fluid is how this might happen, although it’s possible there are other explanations.

To summarize: this study does not directly address the literal claim you quoted about the fetus tasting flavors in the amniotic fluid. However, at a practical level the study does address the issue that may be most relevant to expecting mothers (particularly those reading the babycenter.com article you linked), which is the fact that what they eat during pregnancy could have an effect on their child’s sense of taste and food preferences.

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    that is however not taste... The fetus can't taste as the taste buds aren't affected by the nutrients the fetus receives through the placenta...
    – jwenting
    Jan 10 at 9:02
  • @jwenting I’m confused by your comment. Where did I say anything about the placenta?
    – Dan Romik
    Jan 10 at 15:32
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    I have a hard time believing that first study. Where are they finding these children that over a typical 2-week period eat no garlic at all? (Especially since they were recruit from a small sample group that participated in a previous study 9 years before.)
    – mmeent
    Jan 10 at 15:51
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    When talking about children aged 8-9 and eating preferences how does it also factor in what their parents buy? Could the question of them eating more or less of something be the fact that it is what their parents bought? Or in the case of chips how they felt about chips rather then the flavor?
    – Joe W
    Jan 10 at 16:08
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    @jwenting you are just repeating your unsubstantiated claims. Please provide a citation for your claim that the tongue “has no function at all in the fetus”, otherwise your claim deserves to be ignored and I will not engage in any further discussion.
    – Dan Romik
    Jan 11 at 10:28

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