Amniotic Fluid

The environment in which the fetus lives, the amnion, can indeed be odorous. Its odor can indicate certain disease states, such as maple syrup disease or trimethylaminuria [36, 37]. In 1985, a case study report was published describing four infants who presented with peculiar body odors on delivery. Although each infant tested negative for syndromes that are associated with peculiar body odors, all were born to women who had ingested a spicy meal (e.g., cumin, fenugreek, curry) prior to delivery [14].

In the mid-1990s, an experimental study was conducted that revealed that the diet of the mother could alter the odor of amniotic fluid in humans [38]. Amniotic samples were collected from women undergoing routine amniocentesis. The women were randomized to one of two groups, in which they consumed either essential oil of garlic or placebo capsules approximately 45 min prior to the amniocentesis. The amniotic fluid from a portion of the sample was then evaluated by a trained sensory panel of adults who were screened for normal olfactory functioning. The results were unequivocal. Panelists judged the odor of the amniotic fluid of the women who consumed the garlic capsules as smelling stronger and more garlic-like than the amniotic fluid samples from the women who consumed the placebos. Since odor is an important component of flavor perception, these data provided the first experimental evidence that the amniotic fluid may provide infants with their first exposure to flavors within the mothers' diets.

That these flavor changes in amniotic fluid are perceived by fetuses and bias their preferences after birth was later demonstrated in a study conducted in Northern Ireland [39]. The response to the odor of garlic was assessed in two groups of infants: one group had mothers who consumed garlic-containing foods on a regular basis during the last month of pregnancy, whereas the other group did not. Between 15 and 24 h after birth, newborns were given a two-choice test between a cotton swab that contained garlic and an unadulterated cotton swab. The infants whose mothers consumed garlic before their birth oriented their head slightly more toward the cotton swab that smelled like garlic, whereas the infants whose mothers avoided garlic expressed their aversion for the garlic odor by orienting their heads more to the unadulterated swab than to the garlic swab.

A similar study was later conducted in France [40], but here the response to anise odors was assessed in infants whose mothers either regularly consumed anise-flavored foods and sweets, or those who did not consume anise-flavored foods. In this study, newborns of mothers who regularly consumed anise mouthed more and spent more time orienting toward a swab containing anise odor relative to the unadulterated swab and displayed fewer facial responses of distaste (e.g., brow lowering, cheek raising, nose wrinkling, gaping) toward the anise odor when compared with the infants whose mothers did not consume such flavored foods and sweets.

Taken together, these data suggest that neonates can respond positively to flavor volatiles that are experienced prenatally. However, experimental studies in which subjects are randomized to different treatment groups are considered the gold standard in research because they control for all extraneous variables, thereby permitting cause-effect inferences [41]. To this end, the first experimental study on how experience with flavors in amniotic fluid and mothers' milk affects infants' responses to these flavors is presented in the next section. But first, we review the evidence that reveals that like amniotic fluid, human milk provides the potential for a rich source of varying chemosensory experiences.

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  • theodore
    Is amnoitic fluid flavored?
    8 years ago

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