Introducing Allergens to Babies
Food allergies among children in the UK are on the rise. Dr Sophie explains how to safely introduce allergens to your baby.
Everything starts in the womb
Preferences in taste are already set during the time a baby grows in the womb. The smell and taste of the food a mother eats seem to transcend all the way to the amniotic fluid, which surrounds the baby. Small particles of different flavours have been shown to be present in amniotic fluid. Babies start swallowing and digesting amniotic fluid in the second trimester. This way, the taste buds get already used to a family's favorite flavours. A study has shown that children, whose mothers ate garlic regularly during pregnancy, got used to the taste of garlic much quicker than children, whose mothers stayed away from it.
The taste development continues during the breastfeeding period
The same effect has been shown in children, whose mothers drank carrot juice during the breastfeeding period. They adjusted much faster and easier to porridge prepared with carrot juice than children, whose mothers had not consumed any carrot products. This pattern makes sense, as the foods that a mother eats while she is pregnant and nursing are the flavors associated with nutritious and safe foods. They are also the kind of food which the child will have the earliest exposure to once solids are introduced.
As food habits established during infancy continue to predominate in later years, it is important to expose a child to healthy and nutritious foods and flavours from early on. Thus, they will enjoy a healthy diet because they like the taste.
Now you may wonder how your baby’s taste develops during the weaning period
Mothers, who couldn't keep anything but crisps and chocolate down during their pregnancy, or who didn't get a chance to breastfeed their baby, should not despair at this point. Even though the development of taste depends on many inborn factors, such as genes and food exposure during pregnancy, it is a very dynamic and changeable process, especially during early childhood. One of the brain's most amazing characteristics is that it can change behaviour based on experience. This means that sensory experience of savoury and tasty solids can help a child get used to healthy and nutritious food as well.
While babies usually get used to sweet solids quite easily (it is in our genes that we prefer sweet over savoury food), studies have shown that it takes about 8 to 10 tries to make a baby get used to a salty flavor. It is even more difficult to introduce bitter tastes because we have an inborn aversion to bitter and hence possibly poisonous food. Nonetheless, caring patience and loving persistency will win in the end and your baby will get used to the more bitter tasting veggies too! Here are some tips on how to set up healthy habits for your little one.
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