A study of around 100 pregnant women and their fetuses indicates that late in gestation, fetuses can respond to food their mother eats with facial reactions. The study, conducted in England primarily by researchers Durham University, focused on fetuses at between 32 and 36 weeks of gestation.
Participating women were given capsules containing powdered versions of either carrots or kale. 35 women consumed the equivalent of one medium carrot, 34 women consumed the equivalent of 100 grams of chopped kale and the rest didn’t have either.
20 minutes later, ultrasound scans showed that most of the fetuses exposed to the kale flavor seemed to grimace, while most exposed to the carrot appeared to be laughing. The control group, meanwhile, didn’t have the same responses.
“Fetuses exposed to carrot flavor showed ‘lip-corner puller’ and ‘laughter-face gestalt’ more frequently, whereas fetuses exposed to kale flavor showed more ‘upper-lip raiser,’ ‘lower-lip depressor,’ ‘lip stretch, ‘lip presser,’ and ‘cry-face gestalt’ in comparison with the carrot group and a control group not exposed to any flavors,” the authors of the study wrote. “The complexity of facial gestalts increased from 32 to 36 weeks in the kale condition, but not in the carrot condition.”
Previous research to this study has shown that the amniotic fluid surrounding a fetuses can have different smells or flavors depending on the food a mother eats. The authors of the study hailed the findings as having “important implications for understanding the earliest evidence for fetal abilities to sense and discriminate different flavors.”
“We are the first ones who could actually show on an ultrasound scan the facial expressions in relation to the food which the mother has just consumed,” Nadja Reissland, a co-author of the study and the head of the Fetal and Neonatal Research Lab at Durham, said. “If we can actually get [children] to like green vegetables and to perhaps not like sweets that much, it might help with regard to their weight gain and their weight balance.”
NBC News contributed to this report.