Page last updated at 06:05 GMT, Thursday, 24 July 2008 07:05 UK

Diet 'can flavour mother's milk'

A woman breastfeeding a baby
Breast milk varies in flavour

Flavours in a nursing mother's snack can find their way into her breast milk within minutes, research suggests.

A group of 18 women were asked to provide samples of breast milk before and after eating capsules containing various flavours.

New Scientist magazine reported that banana could be detected for an hour after consumption, while menthol lasted for eight hours.

Previous work suggests a breastfeeding mother's diet affects her baby's taste.

Breastfeeding may prepare the infant for flavour changes and new experiences when they start to eat solid foods
Dr Helene Hausner
Copenhagen University

Mothers are often concerned that their baby may be put off breastfeeding or become upset if they have eaten strongly flavoured food.

But the research from the University of Copenhagen suggests that, in most cases, the taste will only change for a few hours at most.

As well as the banana and menthol chemicals, they tested capsules containing liquorice and caraway seed chemicals, both of which peaked in concentration in breast milk on average two hours after consumption.

The research, which originally appeared in the journal Physiology and Behavior, also found that the time it took for the flavours to arrive and disappear varied significantly between women.

However, all the flavours had vanished by the eight hour mark.

Developing tastes

Dr Helene Hausner, who led the study, said that preliminary results suggested that a variety of flavours in breast milk could make the baby more accepting of new flavours.

"Breastfeeding may prepare the infant for flavour changes and new experiences when they start to eat solid foods."

She suggested that while non-citrus fruit flavours only fleetingly altered the flavour of breast milk, other chemicals, such as those in carrots or citrus fruits, might produce more change.

She suggested that the same effect might be achieved by mothers using formula milk if they changed the brand now and again.

Gill Rapley, a health visitor, researcher, and author, said that the findings were another reason why breastfeeding might help babies during weaning.

She said that while parents tended to worry that something they ate might upset their baby's stomach rather than their tastebuds if passed through breastmilk, the results would be reassuring.

"It's interesting to see just how quickly these flavours disappear from breast milk, and we will be able to tell mothers about this."


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