Scans of 100 mothers-to-be show foetuses giving more “laughter-face” responses at carrots, but “cry-face” reactions to kale. The findings by scientists at Durham University could now aid research into how human taste and smell receptors develop.
They believe what pregnant women could influence their children’s taste preferences – and could help form healthy eating habits.
It is thought foetuses experience flavour by inhaling and swallowing the womb’s amniotic fluid.
Experts recorded reactions soon after the mums took carrot and kale flavour capsules.
Postgraduate Beyza Ustun, who led the research, said: “Studies have suggested babies can taste and smell in the womb, but they are based on post-birth outcomes.
“Our study is the first to see these reactions prior to birth. We think repeated exposure to flavours before birth could help to establish food preferences post-birth – which could be important when thinking about messaging around healthy eating and the potential for avoiding ‘food-fussiness’ when weaning.
“It was really amazing to see the unborn babies’ reaction and share those moments with their parents.”
Facial reactions seen in both flavour groups showed exposure to just a small amount of carrot or kale flavour stimulated a response.
Research co-author Professor Jackie Blissett, of Aston University, Birmingham, said: “The next step is to examine whether foetuses show less ‘negative’ responses to these flavours over time, resulting in greater acceptance when babies first taste them outside of the womb.”
The study appears in the journal Psychological Science.