Many parents want to know: do newborns have taste buds? When can babies taste food? When do taste buds develop in the womb? Do babies’ taste buds change over time? We’ll learn about all those things in more detail in this article!
Newborns do have taste buds and can taste different flavors. Babies can taste some different flavors in amniotic fluid and milk before birth and at birth, respectively. Taste buds develop early in the womb, but mature as your baby grows during pregnancy. And, as you might guess, their taste buds change over time!
But first, some background on taste!
Did you know there are five basic tastes? Scientists agree that these are all unique flavors detected differently on the tongue through the chemical receptors in your taste buds. And they suspect that there is an evolutionary reason we like and dislike certain flavors!
Salty flavors, obviously, come from salt, or the chemical sodium chloride. Salt generally tastes good because it encourages you to eat electrolytes.
Sweet flavors come from sugars. Sugars are great sources of energy. Of course sweet flavors come from foods with sugar added, but carbohydrates like bread, pasta and rice also taste sweet. Milk also tastes sweet due to milk sugar, also known as lactose.
Bitter flavors come from a wide variety of chemical compounds. Evolutionarily, scientists think it may discourage people from eating unripe fruits and vegetables or poisons in certain foods. Examples of bitter flavors you might actually enjoy include coffee, dandelion greens, ethanol in alcoholic beverages, and hops in beer. (Probably things your baby shouldn’t taste for awhile!)
Sour tastes indicate acidity. Some sour foods are lemon, grape, orange, tamarind, and vinegar.
Savoriness is the fifth taste. You may have heard the Japanese word for this flavor, umami. It is usually found in foods with many nucleotides or amino acids. Savory foods include soy sauce, cheese, tomatoes, beans, broths, gravies, mushrooms, green tea, celery, and MSG (monosodium glutamate).
I was surprised by something I learned researching this article. You know that map that shows where you taste different flavors on different parts of your tongue is not accurate at all! You can actually taste all different flavors across your entire tongue.
When do babies develop taste buds in the womb?
By 9 weeks of pregnancy, your baby’s mouth and tongue have formed. When you are 13-15 weeks pregnant, your baby has developed taste buds in the womb, and can sense some of the strong flavors from your diet. This time frame also includes the development of taste pores, which is where food molecules contact the taste receptors in taste buds. The amniotic fluid your baby swallows can take on the flavor of spices like curry or garlic. However, your baby is predisposed to like sweet tastes in order to help her like breast milk. And by swallowing amniotic fluid, she will learn a few different flavors that she may experience in your breast milk. By week 21, your baby will swallow several ounces of amniotic fluid per day!
Science has shown that flavors like vanilla, carrot, garlic, anise, and mint can transfer into amniotic fluid and mother’s milk. In fact, they even did a study where pregnant and breastfeeding moms were asked to drink carrot juice daily or avoid it completely. And just as hypothesized, the scientists saw that the babies who were exposed to carrots through milk or amniotic fluid ate more carrot flavored infant cereal when they started solid foods! And- they made fewer grossed out faces while eating it!
This makes a lot of sense- moms tend to feed their babies the same things that they eat, so nature has a way of introducing babies to the foods and flavors they’ll encounter daily when they are older! And clearly, the moral of the story is, eat things that you want your bay to eat. Your baby will have a preference for the types of foods you eat, so eat healthy! Babies also mimic what they see their parents doing. So if they see you eat broccoli and look disgusted, well, they will too. If you eat broccoli and say “mmm, yummy broccoli!” they will be more likely to enjoy it!
Do Newborns Have Taste Buds?
Newborns do have taste buds! In fact, a newborn’s taste buds are very sensitive. They can recognize sweet and sour tastes, and prefer sweet.
Newborns are also able to recognize the savory flavor. This makes a lot of sense because, you guessed it, breast milk is both sweet and savory, due to the lactose (milk sugar), and many proteins and amino acids, respectively.
And the senses of smell and taste are closely linked. Your baby has a great sense of smell at birth- she can tell which way to turn to be fed, and even smell the difference between your breast milk and another mother’s.
But babies are born with the ability to learn and enjoy new tastes. Very early exposure to flavors before and after birth make your baby more likely to accept a wider variety, even when those flavors are introduced through breast milk. In fact, until at least 6 months, or your pediatrician advises you, your baby should only have breast milk or formula.
When do babies’ taste buds change?
Let’s get into some baby taste bud facts! While your baby already has taste buds at birth, she needs to learn how to use them and understand what she is tasting! Texture and smell are also important parts of taste, as we will learn.
Baby taste bud facts: Newborn to 3 months
At this early stage, your baby has a very sensitive sense of taste. She may have a wider distribution of taste buds than an adult! Newborns actually have taste buds on their tonsils and back of their throats, in addition to the ones on their tongues. Like we mentioned earlier, your newborn can tell the difference between sweet and sour tastes. But the number of taste buds will grow as your baby gets older too.
Baby taste bud facts: 3 to 6 months
By 3 months, your baby is probably putting all kinds of things in her mouth, like toys and blankets. That is because your baby is trying to make sense of different textures and tastes.
Babies can perceive bitter tastes around 4 months. Researchers found that infants who ate a specialized, slightly bitter, formula accepted it at 3 months, but after that point, were more likely to refuse it. Evolutionarily, bitterness is nature’s way of warning us that something may be poisonous, which is why many babies do not like bitter foods.
Around 5 months, your baby will develop the ability to detect salty tastes- though they’re too young to be eating salty foods! A baby’s kidneys cannot handle much sodium. Again, ask your pediatrician about what foods you can feed your baby.
Baby taste bud facts: 6 to 12 months
At 6 to 12 months, your baby’s taste buds change even more! Up until this point, your baby has probably only tasted milk (and whatever toys they put in their mouth). Milk is slightly sweet, so your baby will likely prefer sweeter foods at first. Experts suggest offering new foods to your baby at least eight times to find out if they like it! That’s right, your baby may be suspicious of new tastes and textures at this point. She needs to try something several times to get used to a new food.
Taste and smell: sensory activities for infants
Many of the foods we listed as good examples of different flavors are probably a little strong for a baby, or something they shouldn’t be eating anyway, like coffee. Plus, your baby shouldn’t eat anything besides breast milk or formula until about six months (again, check with your pediatrician). But there are other ways you can help your baby develop their sense of taste! We just learned that texture and smell are important parts of taste. These are great sensory activities that don’t involve eating anything!
When your baby equips these magic gloves, they gain +2 to charisma!
First, there are all kinds of great toys out there your baby can chew on to try different textures. One of my favorites is a baby teething mitten. There are tons of different options out there, but they’re all basically a mitten with textured plastic for babies to chew on. Since your baby only has to stick her hand in her mouth, it’s great for a wide range of ages.
When your baby is a little bit older, you can try giving them something like this pineapple teether with multiple textures. It will help soothe your baby if they are teething, is good practice for learning to brush their teeth, and has lots of different textures. Or try out a hilarious pacifier (of course, this is more for the parent’s amusement than the baby’s).
Our second type of activity involves smell. Taste and smell are very closely related. Try putting a dab of something with a strong but pleasant smell on your finger and seeing what your baby thinks! Some things you might want to try are vanilla, cinnamon, minty toothpaste, lemon juice, garlic, or coffee.
Conclusions: Do Newborns Have Taste Buds?
And today we learned: do newborns have taste buds? The answer is yes, taste buds develop during pregnancy, and your baby can taste most flavors by about 6 months, when they’re starting to try solid foods. We also went over some fun activities for young babies who aren’t quite ready for solid food.