Babies' tastes formed while in the womb
Women are being warned to watch what they eat during pregnancy because it might have "long-term consequences" for their babies.
A decade of research indicates that taste preferences are set early in life, and even in the womb.
The evidence points to mothers not only influencing the future eating habits of their children, but also problem behaviour such as addiction.
Several studies were described by French expert Dr Benoist Schaal at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver, Canada.
Some looked at effects in the womb while others focused on women who had just given birth.
Dr Schaal, from the CNRS research institute in Dijon, conducted one study in which 12 pregnant women were given cookies and sweets laced with aniseed. Responses of their babies were measured up to four days after birth and compared with those of a similar number of unexposed infants.
Those babies which had previously "tasted" the strong flavour in the womb seemed attracted to it. They smiled and moved towards the aniseed smell.
Non-exposed babies turned away and looked disgusted.
Babies in the womb could sense flavours by inhaling amniotic fluid, said Dr Schaal.
"During pregnancy a woman is relatively vulnerable to her environment," he said. "What the mother takes in a certain dose goes also to the foetus during a period when the brain is being formed, probably with long-term consequences."