Taste for garlic from the womb on
When it became obvious that I was going to become a father for the first time, well-meaning people were quick with all kinds of advice like: “Be nice to the foetus; if you want your child to be a music lover later in life, play music to the unborn child or sing songs to it while it’s still in its mother’s womb.” Although nonsense, because the unborn in its watery environment with ears and acoustic centres of the brain still not fully developed wouldn’t hear much of the muffled sounds that might or might not get there at all, but all the advice was, of course, given in the best intention. To be honest, I did not follow any of those suggestions and my children still turned out to be music lovers.
However, the question as to whether there are things that the unborn can learn or acquire while still in the womb is interesting and one can ask oneself whether there is any scientific evidence for learning before birth. It depends of course, how one defines ‘learning’. Weeks before a foetus responds to noise and other stimuli, it is affected by substances in the mother’s blood and its mother’s moods and habits. There is not the slightest doubt that newborns of alcoholic mothers or drug addicts suffer all the typical withdrawal symptoms associated with an addict. It therefore does not seem too farfetched to assume that noise, low frequency stimulation, rhythms and movements could have similar habit-forming effects on the foetus.
Excellent evidence for pre-natal learning, actually preferences would be a better description, has been obtained 1988 by Peter Hepper working with rats in Belfast. In his careful studies involving pregnant rats he compared two groups. One in which the pregnant females were fed garlic-enriched food until two to three days prior to giving birth and a second group, which did not receive any garlic. Immediately after birth, the two litters were exchanged and then, 12 days later in a choice experiment, tested to choose between onion and garlic odours. Pups from the garlic-eating mothers aggregated in the smell of the garlic and not the onion, but the other group of baby rats showed no preference at all. Did the first group “remember” their uterine condition? Apparently so, for once born they and their foster mothers had never been in contact with any garlic. So, perhaps those of us who love spicy food may actually have learned that before birth from our mothers.
That milk delivered to her infants can also carry “messages” to her offspring has been demonstrated too and is widely accepted, also with regard to human infants. It is quite likely that preferences for particular kinds of food or taste qualities can be transmitted to a child in this way and as all doctors and pharmacists know, medicines given to a lactating mother can also affect an infant that is still being nursed. Interestingly, and in contrast to the preferences mentioned above in the example with rats, an experiment in which milk enriched with carrot juice was administered to human babies, did not result in a heightened interest and preference for carrots later in the life of these children, but rather led them later to regard carrot-flavoured cereals with disfavour. There is the possibility that the carrot rich milk these children had received early in life may have given them some tummy ache or caused digestive problems and that somehow these early experiences were responsible for the response later in life. Another case of early learning perhaps.
© Dr V.B. Meyer-Rochow and http://www.bioforthebiobuff.wordpress.com, 2017.
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