July 23, 2008 — -- Spend enough time breast-feeding a new baby and that age-old question will likely pop up: Can what a mother eats affect the taste of her breast milk?
Curious as to what infants can taste and when, scientists in Denmark fed various flavor capsules to 18 lactating women. They then took several milk samples throughout the day and found that what mom eats can flavor breast milk for up to 8 hours.
Licorice flavor peaked strongly in breast milk two hours after the capsule, as did the caraway seed flavor. Mint appeared in the mom's milk at lower concentrations but peaked much later, at six hours after ingestion. Researchers tried a banana flavor, but concentrations of banana never came through in the breast milk.
Besides looking for how a mother's diet can affect the taste of her breast milk, the authors of the study were also looking for evidence that flavors transferred to breast milk can influence the child's food preferences later in life.
"During infancy and childhood, individuals are very receptive to sensory and cognitive learning, and the behaviors established in this period are most probably important for later preference and food behaviors," wrote lead author Helene Hausner in the article, which is published in Physiology & Behavior.
"It's sweet. The one time I tried it, it was maple syrupy, but not overly sweet," said Morgan Kennedy Henderson, 43, of Wellesley, Mass. about her breast milk.
Henderson, a mother of two, says she wasn't too conscious of what she ate while breast-feeding, but has noticed a difference in the preferences of children who breast-feed.
"Babies who are breast-fed tend to have a more adventurous palate when they start eating solids," Henderson said. "Both [of her children] have been pretty adventurous, both were willing to try things really early on."
Karen Sussman-Karten, 48, of Newton, Mass., noticed her three children nursed differently when she ate certain foods. When she ate garlic, for example, they drank more. She feels a bit sorry for children who drink only formula.