Pickles and ice cream are the classic pregnancy cravings we think of, but there are as many pregnancy cravings as there are pregnant women. Will you get cravings? If so, of what? When? Should you give in to your cravings, or ignore them?
Are pregnancy cravings real?
If your partner is pregnant and suggesting you should do a late-night run for a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, is she just using pregnancy as an excuse, or are cravings real? While it’s totally possible she’s making it up, pregnancy cravings are, in fact, a real thing. They’ve been studied (although not that much) and really do exist. In fact, although the specific food items vary, pregnancy cravings exist from culture to culture around the world.
When do pregnancy cravings start?
Some women say they started craving certain food items before they even knew they were pregnant. Other women notice the strongest cravings during the second trimester. Anecdotally, women seem to have fewer cravings as pregnancy progresses. It has been noted that pregnancy cravings and morning sickness usually appear at the same time—typically in the first 3-8 weeks of pregnancy—and then get less noticeable over time.
Common pregnancy cravings
In the few studies that have looked into pregnancy cravings, the most common things women appear to want are:
- fast food
It’s sure sounding like someone invented pregnancy cravings as a myth to justify poor eating, right?
The cravings are real, and difficult to resist, but you don’t have to give in to each one all the time. Since the most common pregnancy cravings are for unhealthy food items, it’s important to be attentive to your daily behaviors and choices and give into cravings sparingly.
Pregnancy cravings and food aversions go hand in hand
Cheese with chocolate sauce? Hot dogs slathered in strawberry yogurt? A sudden aversion to all food with stems? Food cravings and aversions are common, quite unpredictable, and often appear at the same time during pregnancy. You might suddenly find yourself longing for pizza at the same time that you’re suddenly repulsed by pudding.
Usually, cravings are strong when you have them. Pregnancy food aversions can be strong, too, and even trigger nausea. You might suddenly not be able to stand the smell of coffee, for example, and start to gag or vomit when you smell it.
Why do pregnant women get cravings?
No one knows exactly why pregnant women get food cravings. Some experts believe that the cravings should be taken seriously as they could be pointing to a nutritional deficit. For example, a mom who is craving burgers might be low in protein.
Others believe that cravings are simply another way that hormones run amok in a woman’s body during pregnancy.
What to do about pregnancy cravings
When you’re craving ice cream and black olives, you probably don’t care what’s causing the craving as much as you want to know what to do about it.
If your craving is for something healthy—watermelon, apples, oranges, green salads—then you can give in often without hesitation.
If your craving is for something a little less healthy—sweetened yogurt, ice cream, burgers, peanut butter, potato chips, fast food—then you’ve got to figure out how to give in less frequently.
Pregnancy cravings tips
- Never indulge in food cravings that involve substances that you should not eat while pregnant—specifically, alcohol; raw or undercooked eggs, meat, or fish; unpasteurized juices and dairy products (like soft cheeses); and fish that contain high levels of mercury.
- If you’re craving non-food items like clay, dirt, or paper, notify your doctor immediately. This condition is called pica and is, of course, not one you should indulge.
- Indulge unhealthy food craving, but not too much. Control those portions!
- Try to substitute low-fat and low-sugar options.
- Distract yourself until the craving goes away. Take a bath, take a walk, read a book, drink a cup of tea, have sex—whatever it takes.
- Eat small meals every few hours. You can avoid cravings by not allowing your blood sugar level to drop too much.
- Exercise is another great way to cut down on cravings.
In general, pregnancy cravings are nothing to be concerned about. More than anything, they make for great stories to tell once your pregnancy is over. So, go ahead and have that peanut butter and avocado sandwich—just don’t expect anyone else to join you!