When Do Pregnancy Cravings Start?
- It’s not uncommon for pregnancy cravings to start early.
- Pregnant women should be aware of Pica and when to get help.
- Ignoring food cravings during pregnancy is generally safe.
- Some women don’t experience pregnancy food cravings at all!
Pregnancy food cravings can sound a bit odd until you experience them yourself. One minute you’re eating normally, and the next, you have a strong, unwavering urge to eat either the strangest combinations or just a large amount of one thing. Sometimes it’s food you didn’t even like pre-pregnancy! It’s an interesting phenomenon, that’s for sure.
When do pregnancy cravings start, though? How long do they last, and what do they even mean? Some of the answers behind food cravings in pregnant women may surprise you!
What Are Pregnancy Cravings?
Pregnancy cravings are a strong, sometimes sudden, urge to consume a specific food item while pregnant. Some of the most common pregnancy cravings are carbs like pizza or cereal, sweet foods like desserts or candy bars, animal proteins like steak, and of course, mom’s favorite take-out or fast food!
With my first, there was nothing better than sitting in my maternity pajamas eating chips; with my second, I ate my body weight in watermelon. Both foods I didn’t consume on a regular basis prior to pregnancy, but the urge was there, and boy, was it intense! It’s also important to know that some moms experience the desire to consume non-food items, a condition called Pica.
Sera Young of TYhe Department of Pediatrivcs at UNC Davis explains in her article Pica in Pregnancy11. Young, S. L.. Pica in Pregnancy: New Ideas About an Old Condition. Annual Review of Nutrition. 2010;30(1), 403–422. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.nutr.012809.104713 that with Pica, pregnant women have urges to consume items not meant for consumption, like soap, dirt, paper, and pet food, to name a few. It’s thought to be caused by a lack of proper nutrients, but unfortunately, there’s no specific test for the condition. Even so, doctors can help mitigate these urges through various interventions22. Afanasjeva, J.. What are the pharmacologic options for managing pica in pregnant women? Drug Information Group. 2020. https://dig.pharmacy.uic.edu/faqs/2020-2/november-2020-faqs/what-are-the-pharmacologic-options-for-managing-pica-in-pregnant-women.
When Do Pregnancy Cravings Start?
Pregnancy cravings start earlier than most women may think! Typically beginning in the first trimester, some women can have cravings as early as the fifth week of pregnancy. While that may be the case, the peak of those cravings won’t occur until the second trimester, somewhere between the three- and six-month mark.
How long they last can vary from woman to woman, though it’s worth noting that most women’s cravings start dissipating once the third trimester hits. While they might be less intense than those early pregnancy cravings, many women still report some kind of food cravings up until delivery day.
What Causes Pregnancy Cravings?
Let’s start by establishing that pregnancy cravings, though commonly intense, are totally normal. In fact, Natalia Orloff says in her article Pickles and ice cream! Food cravings in pregnancy33. Orloff, N. C., & Hormes, J. M.. Pickles and ice cream! Food cravings in pregnancy: hypotheses, preliminary evidence, and directions for future research. Frontiers in Psychology. 2014;5. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01076 that “An estimated 50–90% of U.S. women experience cravings for specific foods during pregnancy.” It’s clear you’re in good company!
Now, as to why these cravings happen, that’s less clear. Much research has been done on the subject, but differing outcomes and opinions tend to lead to several different culprits for the cravings. Anna Graves of The Mystery of Pregnancy Cravings44. Graves, A. by A.. The Mystery of Pregnancy Cravings. Synapse RSS. 2010. https://www.bu.edu/synapse/2010/07/28/the-mystery-of-pregnancy-cravings thinks it’s attributed to hormonal imbalance; leptin, for example, can be low during pregnancy, and it would typically reduce appetite.
The most common conclusion for these food cravings, shared among the authors of Food Aversions and Cravings During Pregnancy55. Demissie, T., Muroki, N. M., & Kogi-Makau, W.. Food Aversions and Cravings during Pregnancy: Prevalence and Significance for Maternal Nutrition in Ethiopia. Food and Nutrition Bulletin. 1998;19(1), 20–26. https://doi.org/10.1177/156482659801900104, is a possible nutrient deficiency. Your body needs a lot of the right nutrients to sustain your normal function on top of the added stress from the pregnancy and the baby itself. Some moms may crave foods that directly correlate to nutrients their body needs to replenish most.
Researchers have also found that sensory changes to taste and smell play a massive role in these cravings as well. For instance, certain foods may suddenly taste or smell bad, while others may be more enticing to the senses, less likely to cause vomiting, and maybe even soothe nausea.
What Will Happen if You Ignore Pregnancy Cravings?
Some soon-to-be moms may wonder if it’s okay to ignore these pregnancy food cravings. Will staving off these cravings somehow impact your baby’s development?
In short, moms can rest assured that it’s okay to ignore those cravings if they want. You’ve got enough things to do before baby arrives; you can cross worrying about your cravings off the list! That’s not to say you can’t indulge, either, though.
For example, if you’re craving unhealthy foods poor in nutrition and high in sugars and fats, it may be wise to ignore those if they’re constant, only indulging from time to time. On the other hand, if you’re craving nutrient-rich foods like fruits and vegetables, it’s perfectly fine to eat your fill! Use your discretion, keeping your health and the health of your baby top of mind.
Should You Worry If You’re Not Having Any Cravings During Pregnancy?
If you’re not having any food cravings during your pregnancy, don’t sweat it. Not all women experience cravings! If anything, the lack of cravings will make it easier for you to stay on track with a healthy, nutrient-rich diet that nourishes both you and your baby. I wish I’d had less cravings, personally. I’d have had a lot less weight to lose!
What About Food Aversions During Pregnancy?
We’ve covered just about everything when it comes to cravings, but now you may be wondering what about food aversions. Speaking from experience, some of my aversions were just as powerful as my cravings! I couldn’t for the life of me come anywhere near a piece of chicken with my first pregnancy.
Not to mention the salty foods I loved with my first, I had no desire to eat with my second. That said, food aversions are as common as the cravings, typically most pronounced in the first trimester and tapering off by the second. A lot of this can be attributed to significant hormonal changes and first-trimester sickness.
For some moms, drinking Ensure while pregnant is the only way to get through that wave of aversions along with the morning sickness. If you’re as lucky as I was, though, you’ll just experience the aversions with no need for supplements.
What should I do if my cravings are causing excessive weight gain during pregnancy?
Take it from me, I know it’s hard to resist the pregnancy cravings. I gained about 60 pounds with both of my pregnancies and while not all were attributed to cravings, some certainly were. The best thing you can do if you’re gaining too much is recenter your diet on the right foods. Think whole grains, reduced-fat dairy, fruits, and veggies.
Also, keep in mind how much you should actually be eating. Contrary to popular belief, the idea of “eating for two” doesn’t hold up well. You really don’t need more than 100 extra calories in the first trimester and according to the Energy Intake Requirements in Pregnancy66. Most, J., Dervis, S., Haman, F., Adamo, K. B., & Redman, L. M.. Energy Intake Requirements in Pregnancy. Nutrients. 2019;11(8), 1812. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11081812, usually only three to four hundred extra in the second and third depending on starting weight and BMI.
Of course, it’s best to consult your doctor for exact numbers since it’ll depend on your height and starting weight. Regular exercise, even just a daily walk, will help!
How Can I Satisfy Pregnancy Cravings?
The obvious answer is to go ahead and eat whatever you’re craving, but as we’ve just discussed above, that’s not always the best choice. If you indulge in every craving every time, it could lead to excessive weight gain during pregnancy, which carries a whole host of problems. That said, keep moderation in mind.
Go ahead and have that slice of cake or serving of chips; just make sure it’s truly a treat and not a daily occurrence. You could also try finding products similar to what you’re craving but a smidge better in the health department so you can enjoy them more often—for example, look for treats that are low in sodium or low in sugar.
Last, try keeping your body fueled with high-protein, nutrient-dense foods. Staying full and truly satiated will lead to less unneeded eating on the day-to-day.
How can my partner or family members support me with my pregnancy cravings?
Your loved ones can help support you with your pregnancy cravings in a few ways. First, they can try to eat healthy, nutritious meals alongside you. It’s a lot easier to eat cleaner when those around you are doing the same. If you’re comfortable with it, you can also ask them to hold you accountable.
Maybe they help you track your extra calories and treats. They could even speak up if they see a pattern of overindulging in certain foods. If you start out with the right perspective, allowing them to speak the truth to you without being defensive, accountability can help keep you on track!
Can pregnancy cravings change throughout the different trimesters?
Cravings can absolutely change from one trimester to another. In the first trimester, common pregnancy cravings include more bland, carb-heavy items due to morning sickness. This is where the majority of those aversions will occur, not just because of the surge in hormones and possible sensory changes but the ill feeling itself.
Once that subsides, you may find yourself craving all sorts of flavorful foods, from sweet to salty, even some weird pregnancy cravings and combinations throughout the remainder of pregnancy.
- Young, S. L. (2010). Pica in Pregnancy: New Ideas About an Old Condition. Annual Review of Nutrition, 30(1), 403–422. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.nutr.012809.104713
- Afanasjeva, J. (2020, November). What are the pharmacologic options for managing pica in pregnant women? Drug Information Group. https://dig.pharmacy.uic.edu/faqs/2020-2/november-2020-faqs/what-are-the-pharmacologic-options-for-managing-pica-in-pregnant-women
- 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. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01076
- Graves, A. by A. (2010, July 28). The Mystery of Pregnancy Cravings. Synapse RSS. https://www.bu.edu/synapse/2010/07/28/the-mystery-of-pregnancy-cravings
- Demissie, T., Muroki, N. M., & Kogi-Makau, W. (1998). Food Aversions and Cravings during Pregnancy: Prevalence and Significance for Maternal Nutrition in Ethiopia. Food and Nutrition Bulletin, 19(1), 20–26. https://doi.org/10.1177/156482659801900104
- Most, J., Dervis, S., Haman, F., Adamo, K. B., & Redman, L. M. (2019). Energy Intake Requirements in Pregnancy. Nutrients, 11(8), 1812. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11081812
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