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Pregnancy can be both an exciting and confusing time. Not even your taste buds and food preferences are spared from changes. You may start craving foods you rarely ate before, and you may not be able to eat some of your old favorites. If you’re newly pregnant, you may be wondering when these pregnancy cravings typically start, and when your taste buds and food preferences will return to normal. Let’s dive in.
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What are pregnancy cravings?
When you’re pregnant, everything starts to change, including your food preferences and cravings. Pregnancy cravings for a specific food or a unique combination of foods are common. The old joke about pregnant people craving pickles with ice cream comes from somewhere!
Food cravings will be a unique experience for everyone. The reasons behind the cravings during pregnancy are poorly understood. Some people may experience food aversions and morning sickness alongside their cravings.
When do pregnancy cravings start?
Most women will experience some pregnancy cravings by the end of their first trimester, although some may experience them earlier. Often, cravings may spike during the second trimester and start to decrease during the third trimester.
Usually, after delivery, the pregnancy-related food cravings go away. If you’re experiencing strange cravings, most times, cravings for a specific food won’t last the entire pregnancy. You may crave a particular food for a couple of days, then want a different food for a day or two.
Why do pregnancy cravings happen?
No one really knows precisely why food cravings happen during pregnancy. They also don’t understand what makes some pregnant women crave specific textures, tastes, and flavor combinations, while others crave entirely different things.
Here are some of the possible causes of pregnancy cravings
The hormonal changes during pregnancy may be behind some pregnancy cravings. This may be similar to cravings women experience during their menstrual cycle. Many women experience an increased desire for foods high in sugar, salt, and fat during the week or two before their period begins (Souza, 2018).
Pregnancy cravings may be similar to cravings that happen during the menstrual cycle, related to changes in hormone levels.
Some people believe that pregnancy cravings may be in response to what the body needs during pregnancy. For instance, a craving for red meat or spinach could be the body’s attempt to bring in more iron.
Even though this is a speculated cause of pregnancy cravings, little research supports this theory. And this theory doesn’t hold much weight since cravings often tend to be for less healthy food choices, like fast food and ice cream.
What are normal folate levels?
Different cultural norms may play a significant role in eating behaviors while pregnant. People may eat more while pregnant because of beliefs like they’re now “eating for two.” Because of this belief, excessive weight gain can be common.
It’s healthy to gain 20–35 pounds during pregnancy (CDC, 2021). Still, some people may overindulge since there can be less judgment about eating more while pregnant.
Your culture also impacts the types of food you crave. In the U.S., chocolate is one of the most commonly craved foods, while in Japan, pregnant women are more likely to crave rice (Orloff, 2014).
The food beliefs you have around healthy eating may also influence your cravings. Forbidden foods, junk food, and believing some foods should be avoided may increase cravings for those foods. The research suggests that, during surveys, women were more likely to report cravings for “forbidden” foods (Orloff, 2014).
Common food cravings during pregnancy
Everyone’s cravings are different. Some people may crave sweet foods, while other people lean towards salty foods. Still, some foods appear more often than others.
Here are some of the common pregnancy cravings:
- Dairy products, such as ice cream
- Starchy carbs, like potato chips and crackers
- Fast food
What are food aversions
Around the same time cravings begin, you may notice some food aversions. They usually start during the early pregnancy stages. Foods you usually love may make you feel nauseated, or the smell may trigger morning sickness symptoms.
A food aversion occurs when you can’t stand to smell or eat specific foods. It may even be difficult for you to be around the food because of an increased sense of smell.
Like food cravings, we don’t know the reason behind food aversions. They’re likely related to hormone changes, and some people believe it’s the body protecting itself against harm. For example, common aversions include chicken and red meat, which, when undercooked, could contain bacteria that may be harmful, especially for pregnant people. But like cravings, there is little research to support this theory about aversions.
How to handle food cravings and aversions
There’s a good chance you’ll experience food cravings and aversions throughout the pregnancy. Here are some tips to help you handle them.
- Keep healthier options on hand. Stocking your pantry with options that satisfy cravings and hunger, like dark chocolate, fruit, yogurt, and nuts, may help.
- Allow yourself to indulge in moderation. Research suggests restrained eaters (people focused on dieting, weight, and making frequent dieting attempts) are more likely than unrestrained eaters to gain more than the recommended weight gain range during pregnancy (Orloff, 2014). So, don’t be afraid to indulge in your cravings—in moderation.
- Eat regular, nutritious meals. Eating a healthy, balanced diet helps promote more stable blood sugar levels and may help reduce cravings by meeting your nutrition needs.
- Tell the people around you about your aversions. If you’re experiencing food aversions, you can ask the people you see not to bring those foods around you until the aversion goes away. You may not be able to avoid the foods altogether. Still, telling people may help reduce the number of times you’re around it and may alleviate morning sickness and other uncomfortable symptoms.
When does nausea start in pregnancy? When does it end?
When to see a healthcare provider
In general, pregnancy cravings aren’t a reason to worry. Still, there are some cravings about which you may want to talk to your doctor.
Sometimes, during pregnancy, women will have odd cravings for non-food items, which is a sign of a condition called pica. Often, pica may indicate an iron deficiency or anemia. Pregnancy cravings that may be a sign of pica include (Nasser, 2021):
- Chewing ice chips
- Corn starch
- Paint chips
If you have excessive cravings for sugary and starchy carbohydrates along with excessive thirst, headaches, and frequent urges to pee, it could be a sign of gestational diabetes (Rodriguez, 2021). Talk to your healthcare provider if you notice any of these unusual cravings or symptoms.
- Al Nasser, Y., Muco, E., & Alsaad, AJ. (2021). Pica. [Updated Jul 29, 2021]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved on Sep. 13, 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532242/
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Weight gain during pregnancy. Retrieved on Sept 3, 2021 from https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/pregnancy-weight-gain.htm
- Orloff, N. C. & Hormes, J. M. (2014). Pickles and ice cream! Food cravings in pregnancy: hypotheses, preliminary evidence, and directions for future research. Frontiers In Psychology, 5, 1076. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01076. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4172095/
- Quintanilla Rodriguez, B. S. & Mahdy, H. (2021). Gestational diabetes. [Updated Aug 11, 2021]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved on Sep. 13, 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK545196/
- Souza, L. B., Martins, K. A., Cordeiro, M. M., Rodrigues, Y. S., Rafacho, B., & Bomfim, R. A. (2018). Do food intake and food cravings change during the menstrual cycle of young women?. Revista Brasileira De Ginecologia E Obstetricia: Revista Da Federacao Brasileira Das Sociedades De Ginecologia E Obstetricia, 40(11), 686–692. doi: 10.1055/s-0038-1675831. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30485899/