February 20, 2008

Likes and Dislikes Develop in the Womb

You might think that life begins, well, when you're born - that's just logical, isn't it?

But even though we count our age from the day we arrive, kicking and screaming into the world, it is actually in the womb that we begin to develop our likes and dislikes.

And according to a leading midwife, the taste of avocado and the soothing voice of Cerys Matthews are two of the things unborn babies commonly enjoy.

Although there is no hard scientific research to back up her claims - yet - Helen Rogers, head of the Royal College of Midwives, Wales, says the anecdotal evidence from pregnant women she has cared for over the years is overwhelming.

Time and again they have told her that the voice of the Welsh pop star works like a traditional nanny's lullaby and that babies seem to turn towards avocado if it is offered to them in the months following birth.

She said, "Babies tend to like melodies, and lots of mums tell me that Cerys has a lovely mother-like female voice that seems to be soothing for babies developing in the womb, during labour and after they are born too.

"If a baby is restless after birth, often a new mum doesn't quite know what to do with them.

"But if the baby is played music they are already familiar with it seems to calm them down - it really does seem to work.

"It appears that they associate the music with a relaxing time during pregnancy, when their mum would perhaps take a morning or afternoon break and put some music on.

"And this association can last throughout the first year of life.

"Other mums say they play Bach's cello concertos, because they are mathematical and are supposed to be good for stimulating logic. Mozart is also supposed to help with brain development.

"Books for radio on tape can work too, for example Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas.

Mums say there is something about the rhythm of Burton's voice and the poetry that seems to suit babies.

"Even if they are hearing it in a muffled way, they can pick up the vibrations. And the important thing is for mothers-to-be and new mums to be relaxed."

When it comes to food tastes, each individual is different.

There is a lot of myth and folklore surrounding the type of foods that suit or upset babies, but Helen says the most important thing is for pregnant women to avoid alcohol, soft cheese such as Brie and raw eggs during their pregnancy.

She added, "If you drink wine then it will be passed on to the baby. So we advise mothers to abstain from alcohol for the duration of the pregnancy.

"But although there are fears about eating spicy food and curries, eating a hot curry won't do any harm.

"Babies are living and breathing in the womb and might get the odd hiccup but if you get heartburn that is because food disagrees with you, not necessarily your baby."

One thing that does seem to appeal commonly to a lot of babies is avocados, both inside and outside of the womb. Many mothers Helen speaks to are convinced that the fruit appeals to a baby's developing tastebuds "They often say they have eaten avocado throughout their pregnancy and that their babies will turn towards it after they are born," she said.

Nutritionists say avocados are a good choice for babies because they contain plenty of the carotenoid lutein, which some studies suggest may help maintain healthy eyes.

And one-fifth of a medium avocado has only 50 calories yet contributes nearly 20 vitamins and minerals, making it a good nutrient choice as well.

Avocados contain valuable nutrients including folate, potassium, vitamin E and iron, as well as fibre.

Per serving, they also have about 3.5g of unsaturated fats, which are known to be important for normal growth and development of the central nervous system and brain.

And the avocado's smooth, creamy consistency makes it one of the first fresh fruits a baby can enjoy.

Karen Coates, dental adviser for the British Dental Health Foundation, recommends a healthy, balanced diet for pregnant women, containing all the necessary vitamins and minerals to pass on to their baby through the placenta.

She said, "Good nutrition from the mother during pregnancy is important for the baby's teeth to develop.

"Calcium in particular is important to produce strong bones and healthy teeth. This can be found in milk, cheese and other dairy products.

"Women who suffer from morning sickness may want to eat little and often. If you are often sick, rinse your mouth out afterwards with plain water to prevent the acid in your vomit attacking your teeth.

"Try to avoid sugary snacks and drinks between meals to protect your teeth against decay."

One thing babies in the womb don't like is stress passed on to them from their mothers, according to the Royal College of Psychiatry.

Research from several independent studies last year shows that if the mother is anxious or stressed while pregnant, her child is substantially more likely to have behavioural, emotional or cognitive difficulties.

Some research shows there is an increased risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and language delay in the children of mothers stressed in pregnancy.

And anxiety in pregnancy seems to have greater effects than antenatal depression.

A Royal College of Psychiatry spokesperson said, "The causes of these effects are not fully understood, although the evidence points to raised levels of the stress hormone cortisol being a factor.

"The foetal environment may be altered if stress in the mother changes her hormonal profile.

"There is a strong association between stress and levels of cortisol, both in the mother's blood and in her amniotic fluid.

"Recently, a link has been found between cortisol levels in the amniotic fluid and the child's mental development index - the higher the level of cortisol, the lower the index."

So if you want to make sure you have a happy "bump", why not stick a Catatonia CD on, make yourself an avocado salad, put your feet up and relax... bliss.