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How the Eating Habits of Pregnant Mothers Affect Their Child's Preferences

By Laura Agadoni ; Updated June 13, 2017

While the old adage goes, “You are what you eat.” what you choose to eat may have its roots in what your mother ate when she was pregnant with you. It's possible that prenatal exposure to foods is behind cultural and ethnic food preferences, suggests research published in “Pediatrics," the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. A mother’s diet can also influence whether her baby will be prone to obesity.


A woman who is obese before she gets pregnant is more likely to have an obese toddler than a woman who is a healthy weight prepregnancy, explains Researchers Panagiota Kitsantas and colleagues from George Mason University. What women can take from this is that preventing childhood obesity begins before the child is even conceived. A woman can significantly decrease the chances of having an obese child by treating her own obesity before becoming pregnant, which includes learning how to eat a healthy diet and living a healthy lifestyle that incorporates exercise.

Junk Food Crazy

The notion of a pregnant woman loading up on whatever food strikes her fancy because she is eating for two can lead to unhealthy food preferences in her child, according to a 2007 study conducted at the Royal Veterinary College in London.” The study, performed on rats, has implications for humans, according to the research team. When the pregnant rats ate a diet of processed junk food, such as doughnuts and other sweets, their offspring also preferred sugary junk foods and tended to overeat. Dr. Stephanie Bayol, lead author of the study, believes that if pregnant women eat junk food, they can promote a liking for such food in their children.

Fondness for Flavors

Flavors from foods a pregnant woman eats are transmitted to the fetus through the amniotic fluid, which the fetus swallows. Once the baby becomes familiar with a certain flavor, he is more likely to prefer it during childhood, report Dr. Julie A. Mennella and colleagues, whose 2001 study was published in “Pediatrics." The researchers tested three groups of women; one group had carrot juice during pregnancy and water while breastfeeding, a second group had water during pregnancy and carrot juice while breastfeeding, and a third group had water throughout. The babies in all three groups were given cereal made with carrot juice and cereal made with water. While not statistically significant, the results of this study showed that the infants who were exposed to carrot juice in the womb enjoyed the carrot-tasting cereal more than the plain cereal and enjoyed the carrot-tasting cereal more than the other two groups did.

The Verdict

It is possible that a pregnant woman’s diet can influence her child’s food preferences. Therefore, it is important for a pregnant mother to eat a varied and healthy diet. This may save future battles over food throughout her child’s formative years and can even lay the foundation for teaching her child lifelong healthy eating habits.

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