Have a craving for mango even though you’re not sure what it tastes like? Are you suddenly disgusted by the appearance of carrots, your favorite vegetable since you were five years old? Does the idea of dipping pickles in ice cream sound really good? Your pregnancy cravings are here in full force! You might be embarrassed to tell people you’re craving ketchup-flavored ice-cream but in fact, you might not be the only one with a weird craving. It’s been found that 50 to 90% of women have very specific cravings during their pregnancy. Cravings that can be considered odd. So, if you’re craving ketchup flavored ice-cream, don’t be embarrassed by it.
When Do Pregnancy Cravings Start?
Pregnancy cravings commonly start in the first trimester and are at their peak during your second trimester. They start decreasing around the third trimester, but some women may experience a few cravings even after delivery. Around this time, you might notice that you are suddenly turned off by specific food groups and dishes. Even thinking about a certain food can make you gag. These are all completely natural effects of pregnancy. And on the flip side, if you don’t feel any real cravings, that’s normal too. Pregnancy doesn’t always guarantee cravings for all women.
So, Why Do We Have These Cravings and Aversions?
Doctors and scientists are still not 100% sure why pregnant women get cravings. There is definitely some hormonal involvement; your hormones are changing faster than ever during pregnancy and your body is doing work like never before to produce blood to support you and your baby. Hormones usually mess with your emotions and energy levels as well, which is why you can have strong cravings for say, carbohydrates.
During pregnancy, your sense of smell and taste can be hypersensitive, muted, or a little haywire. This can trigger some cravings and aversions. It’s pretty rare for morning sickness and nausea to cause cravings and aversions but if they do, it should subside in time. If that’s not the case, talk to your healthcare provider to see what can be done about your nausea so that you can get the nutrition you and your baby need.
A common belief is that your cravings represent what your body needs. For example, if you’re craving dairy products like milk and ice-cream, you need calcium. Or you crave salty potato chips because your body has more blood than you’re used to, which creates a need for sodium.
Similarly, aversions are believed to be the body’s natural way of protecting itself. Some women may be turned off by the sight, smell, taste, and texture of meat during pregnancy even though it’s a staple in their diet. This is believed to be caused by the bacteria meat carries. Or someone who has claimed they can’t live without coffee suddenly loses their taste for it. This is believed to help with the baby’s healthy development. However, this theory of the body creating aversions and cravings to mirror what it needs has still not been completely substantiated. While there might be some truth in some cases, try to eat a well-balanced diet as much as possible.
There are also researchers who claim the reason for cravings might be something as simple as a need for comfort. The differences in the cravings of women with different cultural backgrounds supports this theory.
Common Pregnancy Cravings and Healthy Substitutions
Cravings and aversions might be hard to prevent or curb during your pregnancy. So, it’s best to figure out how to get on top of it. Although most pregnant women typically crave fruits, milk, and milk product, it’s reported that cravings are for carbs, salt, and fat. Doctors reassure that eating such food groups are completely fine as long as you don’t overindulge and especially if it’s only for a short while. These days, it’s so easy to drive out and pick up a candy bar when the whim strikes. So, do be mindful of consistently eating food high in carbs and fat as it can cause weight gain, gestational diabetes, and other conditions well beyond pregnancy. The occasional French fries might be an okay indulgence, but it would be best to balance it out with healthy options.
Here are some common cravings and healthier substitutions:
- Chocolate: Eat a square or few of dark chocolate instead of a brownie or an entire bar
- Sweet: Have some fresh fruits instead of artificial or processed sugar
- Ice cream: Dig into some frozen yogurt or sorbet
- Crunch (e.g., potato chips): Crunch away on some carrots
- Soda: Drink some (naturally) flavored seltzer or mineral water
As a general rule of thumb, make sure you’re eating pasteurized milk products and avoid undercooked or raw seafood and eggs. And as tempting as a giant bag of candy bars on sale might seem, try not to keep large quantities of such food in the house so that you don’t binge them one emotionally charged night.
Not All Cravings Are Okay
Sometimes, you might find yourself craving weird items like dirt, ashes, and other non-food items. If this is the case, be sure to see your healthcare provider right away as it could mean you have pica. Don’t be embarrassed about bringing it up! The reason for craving non-food items is not clear, although it’s believed there could be a possible association with an iron deficiency. And while such cravings are not unusual, don’t give in to the temptation. The toxins and parasites in non-food items are harmful to you and your baby. Your healthcare provider might review your health records with you and monitor your intake and iron levels. Let your partner know so that they can keep an eye on you.
That’s all you need to know about cravings during your pregnancy. Just keep in mind that the occasional indulgence is completely fine as long as you’re having a well-balanced diet overall. Don’t judge yourself for it! Pregnancy is challenging as it is. So, don’t cause extra stress to yourself with what you are eating and not eating.