We’ve all heard anecdotes about pregnant women indulging in peculiar snacks like pickles and ice cream because they had an insatiable craving. But where do these strange pregnancy cravings come from? And what should we do about them?
Many women experience pregnancy cravings typically starting during the first trimester and ending in the second. Most cravings fall under the categories of sweet, spicy, salty or sour and may even be for a combination of two—like pickles and ice cream. Despite our best efforts to eat a nutritious diet while pregnant, unfortunately only about 10 percent of pregnancy cravings are for fruits and vegetables. The most commonly reported cravings during pregnancy include:
- Potato chips
- Spicy foods
- Ice cream
- Red meat
What Causes Cravings?
Although there are several theories about why pregnant women experience food cravings, the most compelling explanation is hormone fluctuations. High levels of pregnancy hormones can heighten and sensitize a woman’s senses like taste and smell causing her to be more interested in certain foods and in some cases repulsed by others. It is also believed that cravings may represent a need or a deficiency in your body. For instance, if you are frequently craving fruit juice it may be your body signaling a need for more Vitamin C. In other words, it is not necessarily that your body needs the specific food that you are craving but some component or ingredient in that food like protein, calcium, sodium or potassium. Hormone changes during pregnancy are also likely responsible for the fluctuations in appetite throughout the nine months.
When to Contact Your Doctor
While most cravings during pregnancy are harmless, they become a cause for concern if you are craving a non-food item. This condition, called pica, is characterized by cravings for non-edible items like crayons, dirt, chalk and laundry detergent that may cause serious health repercussions for you and your developing baby. Particularly, cravings for non-food items like dirt or clay that may contain lead content can cause serious developmental, cognitive and motor skill impairments in your baby. If you are experiencing non-food food cravings, contact your doctor or midwife as soon as possible for help. You may have a nutritional deficiency in iron or zinc that will require further treatment.
What about Food Aversions?
Equally as common as food cravings during pregnancy are food aversions. The same hormones that cause us to have a hankering for certain foods may cause you to be nauseated by others. This is also thought to be the result of heightened taste and smell senses during pregnancy. Food aversions may coincide with morning sickness during the first trimester when you are most likely to be offended by unpleasant scents or tastes. Like cravings, food aversions will likely disappear by the second trimester as the hormones in your body begin to stabilize. If your food aversions are interfering with your ability to eat a nutritious diet, talk to your doctor or midwife for ways to keep you and your baby healthy.
Managing Your Cravings
Here are some basic tips for dealing with cravings during pregnancy:
- Eat a well-balanced diet to avoid vitamin deficiencies in mom or baby.
- Watch weight gain: Excess weight gain during pregnancy can lead to dangerous conditions like preeclampsia, high blood pressure and other complications during labor and delivery.
- Find healthy alternatives that will satisfy your cravings: For example, substituting yogurt for ice cream.
- Indulge every once in a while and eat a healthy diet the rest of the time.
- Decipher your craving: What does your body really need? Vitamin C? Protein? Calcium?
- Satisfy cravings for unhealthy or fattening foods only occasionally.
- Don’t fill up on an unhealthy craving so that you have no room left for nutritive foods.
- Limit sweets intake and consider substituting fruit when possible.
Cravings during pregnancy are a perfectly normal and common occurrence to be indulged in with moderation and balanced with a nutritious and vitamin rich diet. For questions about nutrition during pregnancy or any and all things related to natural birth, contact Health Foundations for a free consultation with a midwife and a tour of our Birth Center.