Throughout pregnancy, fetuses are exposed to a range of chemosensory inputs influencing their postnatal behaviors. Such prenatal exposure provides the fetus with continuous sensory information to adapt to the environment they face once born. This study aimed to assess the chemosensory continuity through a systematic review and meta-analysis of existing evidence on chemosensory continuity from prenatal to first postnatal year. Web of Science Core Collections, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, EBSCOhost ebook collection was searched from 1900 to 2021. Studies identified from the search were grouped according to type of stimuli the fetuses were exposed to prenatally that the neonatal infants’ responses to were being evaluated, namely flavors transferred from the maternal diet, and the odor of their own amniotic fluid. Of the 12 studies that met the eligibility criteria for inclusion (k = 6, k = 6, respectively in the first and the second group of studies), and eight studies (k = 4, k = 4, respectively) provided sufficient data suitable for meta-analysis. Infants, during their first year of life, oriented their heads for significantly longer durations in the direction of the prenatally experienced stimuli with large pooled effect sizes (flavor stimuli, d=1.24, 95% CI [0.56, 1.91]; amniotic fluid odor, d=0.853; 95% CI [.632, 1.073]). The pooled effect size for the duration of mouthing behavior was significant in response to prenatal flavor exposure through maternal diet (d=0.72; 95% CI [0.306, 1.136]), but not for the frequency of negative facial expressions (d=-0.87, 95% CI [-2.39, 0.66]). Postnatal evidence suggests that there is a chemosensory continuity from fetal to the first year of postnatal life.
Ustun, B., Covey, J., & Reissland, N. (2023). Chemosensory continuity from prenatal to postnatal life in humans: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS ONE, 18(3), Article e0283314. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0283314