Can you smell garlic in your amniotic fluid?

Jul 31 2013 Published by under Physiology/Pharmacology

...this is a question that I have to imagine most of us have never really asked. But the next time you smell someone's amniotic fluid (why wouldn't you?), make sure to check and see if they've had garlic.

Mennella et al. "Garlic ingection by pregnant women alters the odor of amniontic fluid". Chemical Senses, 2013.


There are several legends surrounding flavorful foods and babies. Some say that you can't have garlic while breastfeeding because it will get in the milk. Others say that's totally fine. Some say you should start spicy foods or "odd" flavors early on, so babies get a taste of it in the breastmilk and will be more likely to like them. But that's breastfeeding. What if you got a start in the womb?

The question is whether strong flavors or odors, comprised of chemical compounds (as most everything is), can get into the amniotic fluid. The amniotic fluid is the fluid inside the placenta, and bathes the fetus while it is developing. Fetuses swallow this fluid (and "poop" and "pee" it out at the other end), and it generally pervades their environment. So if you eat garlic... does it get in there? And can the baby tell?

Well, no one asked the babies. But they did have 10 women who were getting routine amniotic fluid draws. They gave 5 of the garlic pellets, and the other 5 placebo. And then they sent the amniotic fluid to a sniff testing panel. Like you do. And sure enough, in most cases the sniff testers could smell the garlic in the fluid. I guess that's proof that garlic really DOES get into everything (I swear, sometimes I feel like it's coming out my pores!).

So, ok, eating garlic can make the amniotic fluid smell, well, garlicky. But...what does it matter? Does a baby exposed to garlicky amnion like garlic more? Less? Do they have garlic breath at birth? Yes, the baby is bathed in amniotic fluid, so it could certainly come into contact with chemicals in it, but...can it tell the difference? This study doesn't address that, but it'd be interesting to see. In the meantime, take some dating advice from my mother "If one eats garlic, both eat garlic". Or in this case "If one eats garlic, you should also eat garlic before sniffing at her amniotic fluid. If you're in to that.

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