A Sickness for Salt

Discusses the connection between the mother's illness and child's salt preference. Findings of Ilene Bernstein and Sue Crystal of the University of Washington on the effect of dehydration associated with vomitting on the brain of a fetus.

By Jasmine Fox, published on January 1, 1999 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

If your first instinct at meals is to reach for the salt shaker, you may want to ask your mother how nauseous she was when she was pregnant with you.

A recent study shows that the adult children of mothers who reported moderate or severe morning sickness use salt and crave salty snacks more than kids of women who had mild or no morning sickness.

The connection between mom's illness and child's salt preference reaches back to early infancy, according to professor of psychology Ilene Bernstein, Ph.D., and post-doctoral fellow Sue Crystal of the University of Washington. Previous research has shown that infants whose moms suffered morning sickness prefer saltwater solutions more than those whose mothers were nausea-free.

The co-authors speculate that the dehydration associated with vomiting may cause the production of fluid-balancing hormones which affect the fetus's brain--and yen for salt--though they are as yet unsure of the exact mechanism.