It's no secret that what we eat when pregnant may often become some of baby's favorite foods later in life. While pregnancy cravings can make it a challenge for many women to stick with a healthy diet, perhaps there's another incentive to keep you from straying: New research shows that eating healthy foods while pregnant and breastfeeding will make it easier to introduce those same foods to your child when weaning them off of breast milk or formula.
According to a recent article in the Independent, children learn about food flavors while in the womb and through the breast milk. The more accustomed to the flavors of healthy foods they are, the easier it will be to get children to eat those foods when it's time to make that transition. One of the studies cited in the article found that babies whose mothers drank carrot juice while pregnant or breast-feeding consistently ate nearly twice as much carrot-flavored baby cereal than babies whose mothers did not drink carrot juice. “It was the first time the babies ate solid food, and it shows how we are primed by our earliest exposures. The research shows that children are getting sensory information in the womb and through their mothers' milk,” said Julie Mennella, a developmental biologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Centre in Philadelphia. "Regardless of whether a child is breast or bottle-fed, it can still learn as soon as it starts to wean. If they are repeatedly exposed to fruit and vegetables early on, then they soon begin to accept these foods.”
Babies come into the world with a taste for sweet and fatty foods, which are higher in calories that are necessary during infancy. Bitter vegetables? Not so much. It can take children years to develop a taste for vegetables, quite literally. The ability to tolerate or even appreciate certain foods does come with age as the palate develops. Often kids are accused of being fussy or picky—stuck at the table with a plate full of Brussels sprouts—but there is legitimacy to their aversion. Which is why helping the process during pregnancy and breastfeeding can make a huge difference. Who wants to be those parents making their child sit there staring into a plate full of cold, bitter broccoli until it's all eaten? Mennella again: "My advice is: eat a variety of healthy foods that you enjoy while pregnant and breast feeding and once your child starts eating solid foods give them repeated opportunities to taste these foods so they can grow to learn to like its tastes."
Expectant and nursing mothers should be eating a wide range of fruits and vegetables during pregnancy and breastfeeding anyway, for their own health. They're loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. The more these foods are included as part of a healthy pregnancy, the quicker baby will be adjust to eating them, too. And with childhood obesity now a national epidemic, instilling good eating habits into our children is more important than ever.Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger