Not so long ago, I went on a day trip with my daughter and granddaughter to an interactive children’s museum. While we were there, I witnessed a battle of wills between a mother and her child. The child was about six-years-old and sadly overweight. He was badgering his mom for junk food, although both of his hands were already filled with cakes and candies. At first mom refused to acquiesce, but soon enough the child’s relentless carrying on wore her down and she purchased yet more junk food from the concession stand.
I didn’t give much thought to this battle of wills, except to note that it was a bit sad and that obesity certainly can begin at an early age. I would later find out just how early that age might actually be.
Poor Eating Habits May Begin in the Womb
Researchers have found that babies who are born to mothers who followed a diverse diet while pregnant are more open to a diversity of flavors. It also was discovered that babies who followed that same diet after they were weaned carried those choices into childhood and adulthood.
In addition, researchers believe that these early preferences have lifelong effects and that changing those preferences after childhood can prove to be quite difficult.
One study showed that babies who were exposed to junk food in utero and just after birth preferred unhealthy foods. When researchers had mothers eat foods such as Fruit Loops and Cheetos while pregnant, their babies had increased expressions of a gene for an opioid receptor and experienced a desensitization to sweet and fatty foods.
Research done on reward pathways for sweetness showed that sweet flavors had a relieving effect on babies and children. Babies cry less if they have sweet flavors in their mouths. Children are able to keep a hand in cold water for a longer period if they have sweet flavors in their mouths.
The First Few Months After Birth
An important period for taste preference development occurs before a baby is even three and a half-months-old. This makes what the mother eats while pregnant and while breastfeeding that much more important.
If babies are exposed to a variety of flavors during this period, they are more
comfortable experimenting with a variety of flavors when they are older. Early exposure to a number of flavors results in a type of imprinting where such flavors not only become preferred, but also become catalysts for emotional attachments.
While part of the problem for development of poor eating habits can be caused by what a mother eats during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, another problem is the premature transition to baby formula. The cause for concern here is that the flavors for baby formulas do not change. Therefore, infants are not exposed to the variety of flavors they would receive if breast feeding.
Although it is recommended that mothers breastfeed exclusively for six-months and continue at a lesser degree for the next six-months while transitioning to solid foods, only about 15% of mothers actually do so.
Living life well-fed,
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Published On: February 27, 2014