If Bad Eating Habits Start In The Womb My Child Is Going To Be The Worst Eater, Ever

88586547How is it that I am not even pregnant anymore and I still have to feel guilty about what I shoved into my pie-hole during the months that I was gestating a human? My toddler is a picky eater and apparently it’s all my fault – according to an op-ed I read in the New York Times this week titled, Bad Eating Habits Start In the Womb

Researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, a nonprofit research organization in Philadelphia, have found that babies born to mothers who eat a diverse and varied diet while pregnant and breast-feeding are more open to a wide range of flavors. They’ve also found that babies who follow that diet after weaning carry those preferences into childhood and adulthood. Researchers believe that the taste preferences that develop at crucial periods in infancy have lasting effects for life. In fact, changing food preferences beyond toddlerhood appears to be extremely difficult.

Great. I literally ate bagels, peaches and Kit-Kats during my son’s entire last trimester in the womb. I am Greek and Italian and absolutely love vegetables – but I couldn’t even stand the sight of them when I was pregnant. Frankly, I couldn’t stand the sight of anything. All those amazing, varied Mediterranean flavors that normally comprised my diet made my stomach turn.

I thought my child was a varied eater when we first introduced solids. His first food was avocado and he quickly took to just about every food we introduced. He even liked olives and capers. Now, all of a sudden the only thing I can get him to eat is oatmeal and pasta.

“What’s really interesting about children is, the preferences they form during the first years of life actually predict what they’ll eat later,” said Julie Mennella, a biopsychologist and researcher at the Monell Center. “Dietary patterns track from early to later childhood but once they are formed, once they get older, it’s really difficult to change — witness how hard it is to change the adult. You can, but it’s just harder. Where you start, is where you end up.”

So is he going to have the preferences of the foodie infant who liked capers and olives or the picky toddler who only eats oatmeal? I certainly hope the former. It may be hard for him to get a date if it’s the latter.

Another recent study conducted at the FoodPlus research center at the University of Adelaide in South Australia found that exposure to a maternal junk food diet (defined in the study as any food that was energy dense, highly palatable and had a high fat content) results in children with a preference for these same foods.

It seems I may have doomed him with my bland pregnancy palate. Damn you, bagels and Kit-Kats.

(photo: Getty Images)

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    • pixie

      Personally, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Perhaps I’m an exception to the rule, but according to those studies, I should like a lot more things than I do and enjoy junk food a whole lot less.
      My mom has always been a healthy eater; she likes fish, and lean meats, and hardly ever eats beef. She shudders at the thought of eating a burger or chicken fingers from a fast food place. I’m very different. I can’t stand fish or most seafood and I love me some steak and bacon. Don’t even get me started on how much I crave junk food all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy most fruits and vegetables, but not quite to the same extent as my mom.

    • AmazingAsh

      I sustained myself on Otter Pops and Route 44 Ocean Sprays for the entire second trimester. Luckily, my 2 year-old loves a huge variety of foods. The only things he tends not to favor are most of the “toddler favorites”- grilled cheese, mac & cheese, chicken nuggets, etc.

      • FormerlyKnownAsWendy

        I agree completely. I don’t think it matters! My whole first few months with my second, all I wanted was caffeine free orange soda and any pasta with red sauce. I kind of figured the baby would have an orange tint when he was born. But, while he may complain about what a food looks like, he hasn’t ever met a food he didn’t like.

      • Jallun-Keatres

        omg the ocean stuff from sonic… yum

    • beth

      I wouldn’t worry too much. My twins are 5 now and one eats anything you set in front of him, even Indian and Middle Eastern and the other only eats fruit and bread. So the junk I ate when pregnant didn’t matter that much.

    • Megan Zander

      I call b.s on this study. If what you eat the first year of your live decides how you’ll eat as an adult, then someone please explain sushi. Pretty sure no one’s parents were feeding them raw fish as infants and yet people now pay a pretty penny to stuff themselves full of it. See also: Mexican, bacon, dark chocolate and alcohol.

      Personally, I’m jealous of your kitkat and bagel regime. I was so afraid of the glucose test that I promised I would try to eat well until then, and I passed with flying colors… And then promptly landed myself in the hospital on bedrest where the best thing I could get my hands on was a dry oatmeal raisin cookie. I still say all the time that I wish I could be pregnant again just for one day so I could eat whatever I want and not feel bad about it.

      • AmazingAsh

        Wait… I’m not supposed to be sharing Enchiladas and Margaritas with the baby? But it’s soooo gooood!

      • Guest

        They’re not saying that *everything* you eat in the first year of life – or *only* the things you eat in the first year of life – is what you’ll eat as an adult; just that taste preferences are influenced by the foods eaten in the early years of life. The more varied a baby/toddler’s diet (i.e. the more different flavours they are exposed to), the more likely they are to be open to a variety of flavours later on.

    • Evelyn

      When I was pregnant a lot of people nagged me about talking to the bump and told me that it could hear the tone of voices. Therefore sanctimonious nagging, guilt tripping and bitchiness towards pregnant mothers is harmful to the baby and could lead to baby sanctimums in training.

      Perhaps how you eat as a mum may have a small effect on a babies palate but you have years to change that for better or worse after they are born. Also I am a little suspicious as while not always the case I suspect that mums who exist entirely on junk food when pregnant are probably less likely to be the mums who cook nutritious, healthy food for their toddlers than the mums who eat healthy nutritious home cooked food when pregnant. That doesn’t mean that a grown up, pregnant lady who chooses to indulge in a bit of comfort eating is going to ruin the baby.

      • barefootwithoutagun

        ‘While not always the case I suspect that mums who exist entirely on junk food when pregnant are probably less likely to be the mums who cook nutritious, healthy food for their toddlers than the mums who eat healthy nutritious home cooked food when pregnant.’

        This. During pregnancy the majority of what I eat is homecooked and as healthy as possible (I blame a lifelong food obsession!), but if I want a cheeseburger, I’ll bloody well have a cheeseburger and I’ll enjoy it without guilt, as I know that the rest of the time I’m feeding myself decently and occasional junk food isn’t going to send my unborn child spiralling into a hellish vortex of lard.

    • gothicgaelicgirl

      I’m screwed when we get pregnant- I literally love prawns and smoked salmon so much I have some for lunch every day. I usually make a seafood stew or steam clams for myself for dinner.
      No fish for me….

      • Alexandra

        I think you can have all that stuff – except maybe for the smoked salmon – as long as it’s properly cooked (I hope! since I’m in month 5 and eat fish frequently!). Only concern is cooking well and the mercury levels, so avoid mackerel, swordfish, tilefish (and there’s one other really bad one…) best are shrimp (they are “self cleaning” as long as you remove the vein at the back) and light canned tuna and sardines.
        Enjoy!!

      • gothicgaelicgirl

        yay! now just to get pregnant so I can eat a whole salmon by myself! =D
        there are some fertility issues on both sides of my family so I do try to watch what I eat anyway. Always looking ahead!

      • Jallun-Keatres

        I definitely ate an entire smoked salmon when I was like 16 weeks along and nothing ill fated became of it. Man was it good too…

      • gothicgaelicgirl

        ^ this. I like you. =P

    • Alfreda

      People that eat a varied diet while pregnant, will generally eat a varied diet after birth. Which sets up this example for the child. Who then learns to eat a varied diet because that is what is cooked and presented to him all his or her life.

      Children go in phases. My children would happily eat cooked broccoli florets at 7 months old with no complaining. Then from 2-6 complained bitterly about any veggies. Now they eat them with minimal complaining because it is served so often they are just used to eating them.

      My nephew went through a phase where he would not eat anything red. Now he eats literally anything.

      Your child will grow out of this oatmeal phase. This is normal toddler behavior and not caused by what you ate while pregnant.

      The best way to combat picky eating is to cook for the family. Put the food on the table. Let him pick from the options presented. Do not make other food.

      Even if you choose to indulge his oatmeal preference for a while because you just can’t deal with fighting with him. He will be fine. He will grow out of it. You eat a varied diet, you present this example to him. Eventually he will get sick of oatmeal. You are doing just fine.

    • Steph

      This is total b.s. in my case. I’m a super healthy eater and eat my weight daily in veggies (even while pregnant). I also breastfed for 19 months and exposed my kid to every damn veggie and fruit under the sun. What does this little jerk eat? Chicken tenders, plain toast, peanut butter, cheese and pasta. That’s it. Any attempts to get her to eat anything else is met with the most epic meltdown in toddler history and forced vomiting. I wish we had more “say” in who our kids are, but we just don’t.

    • dcford

      I’m starting to think (and I say this as a public health researcher myself) that there are too many damn studies these days, and the way findings are presented to the public are clearly misleading. correlation does not equal causation, so just because a varied diet during pregnancy is associated with a more varied food preference among children does not mean the former causes the latter, or is even directly linked. there are most likely a jillion other factors that play into this. it’s too bad we as a culture are always looking for a single cause or easy answer, when almost everything in life is more complex than that (myself included, it’s hard not to…)

    • SusannahJoy

      When I was a kid I hated all seafood. Apple juice was like poison. Bananas were just mushy and gross. Lima beans and peas were abominations! But when I hit my teenage years my taste buds all changed, and I’m pretty ok with all food now (except frozen, farmed salmon, but seriously, does anyone like that crap?). I think the key is to teach your kids that it’s ok if they don’t like something, but always be willing to try it again. And again and again. And who knows? Maybe one day it won’t be so bad!

    • Maddi Holmes

      My mum is a foodie and a nutritionist and always ate a massive variety of foods while pregnant with all 3 of her children. My brother basically refuses to eat anything that isn’t deep fried or covered in cheese these days and he is 21. I personally LOVE interesting foods and trying new things, when I was in Myanmar I ate insects because I wanted to try them. So I call bullshit on this study, they found a correlation but that doesn’t mean they found the causation.

      My mum’s PhD is actually kind of on this sort of stuff. She’s researching whether the proximity people have to certain foods while growing up has an impact on obesity. I find it far more likely that people develop certain tastes for things because those are the things readily available to them, and what their mothers ate while pregnant has no direct effect on their tastes other than their mothers also ate the foods that are readily available.

    • KB

      Interesting how the researchers describe junk food as “highly palatable”….

    • DaisyJupes

      There is some truth to be said about what you eat while breast feeding. If you eat a diet full of vegetables and variety, your child will be less against those as a toddler, because they will be used to consuming them through breast milk. AS LONG AS YOU DON’T TREAT VEGETABLES LIKE THEY ARE ANY DIFFERENT THAN OTHER FOOD AND MAKE YOUR CHILD THINK THEY SHOULD NOT LIKE THEM.