Pregnancy Cravings

Pregnancy cravings may conjure up the image of sneaking out into the kitchen in the middle of the night to eat a pint of ice cream with pickles. Does this sound like you? You may experience varying food cravings (such as for salt, spicy, or sweet foods) during pregnancy, as each expectant mom is unique. Or you might find yourself repulsed by a smell or flavor you loved a few months earlier. Read on to learn more about this common pregnancy phenomenon.

What Are Pregnancy Food Cravings and What Causes Them?

Food cravings during pregnancy are generally nothing to worry about, and you can indulge in some chocolate, potato chips, or ice cream (or a combination of all three) in moderation during your pregnancy. So, why do pregnancy cravings happen? If you’re wondering what causes them, here are two possible reasons women might experience cravings during pregnancy:

  1. They may signal changes in your body’s nutritional needs

  2. They may also be linked to a surge in pregnancy hormones.

What Are Pregnancy Food Aversions?

During pregnancy, you might suddenly find yourself unable to tolerate the taste or smell (or both) of a certain food, even if this was something you originally liked—coffee and fried foods are frequent offenders. But otherwise, food aversions don’t have any specific underlying meaning. Here are two possible medical reasons food aversions may occur during your pregnancy:

  1. Some pregnant women become more sensitive to certain smells and tastes due to changes in hormone levels. This distaste may also be accompanied by an increase in salivation, which is common with nausea linked to morning sickness.

  2. Early in pregnancy, some women may have a mild metallic taste in their mouths, which can contribute to certain food aversions.

When Do Pregnancy Cravings and Aversions Start and End?

Early on in your pregnancy you may be wondering, when do pregnancy cravings start? Food cravings and aversions can be early signs of pregnancy, appearing in the first trimester.

Food cravings are likely to disappear (and food aversions likely to lessen) in the fourth month of pregnancy. If your food cravings continue, it could be a sign of iron deficiency, which can lead to anemia. Consult your healthcare provider if your food cravings continue into the second trimester of your pregnancy and if you have any questions regarding iron supplementation during your pregnancy.

List of Common Pregnancy Cravings

As you’ve probably guessed, food cravings during pregnancy are highly individual. Some women’s cravings may run the gamut from sweet to savory and other women may have no cravings during pregnancy.

You may not be adding sardines to your pistachio ice cream with hot fudge like Lucille Ball, but you may still be experiencing sudden and sometimes strange food cravings, especially late at night. Here are the 10 most common food cravings women experience during pregnancy according to research:

  1. Sweets (chocolate, candy)

  2. Savory high-calorie carbohydrates (pizza, chips)

  3. Animal protein (steak, chicken)

  4. Fruit

  5. Savory high-calorie dairy (cheese, sour cream)

  6. Carbohydrates (pretzels, cereal)

  7. Fast food (Chinese, Mexican, falafel)

  8. Cold foods (ice pops, slushies)

  9. Vegetables

  10. Sweet high-calorie dairy (ice cream, milkshakes).

What Do Food Cravings Mean During Pregnancy?

You may be wondering whether your specific food craving is a signal from your body that it needs a certain nutrient or food during your pregnancy.

The fact that you crave a certain food doesn’t necessarily mean your body needs it. So, no matter how hard you hoped it were true (as you finished off a pint of ice cream), there are no scientific connections between pregnancy cravings and specific foods. Nor is there a good answer to the age-old question “Why do pregnant women crave pickles?”

What to Do About Food Cravings During Pregnancy

As long as you’re following your pregnancy diet, eating a variety of healthy foods, and getting the nutrients you and your baby need, there’s no reason to be concerned about the sporadic food craving.

It’s completely OK to indulge your cravings now and then. But try to avoid using your food cravings as an excuse to overeat or to focus on unhealthy food. It can easily lead to compromising your own nutrition as well as your developing baby’s.

Nevertheless, there are times when you just can’t stop wanting a particular food. Here are six ways to manage cravings and lessen their effect on you.

  1. Take your mind off food. Take a long walk, read a good book, or chat with a friend on the phone.

  2. Avoid falling into the “eating for two” trap. Eating for two doesn’t mean literally eating as much food as two people would eat. Instead, it means that the food you eat is nourishing your baby, too. So, eat only when you’re hungry, not necessarily when you’re having a sudden craving.

  3. Drink water. Oftentimes, you may think you’re hungry, but you’re actually thirsty. Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water throughout the day.

  4. Avoid mindless eating. Take your time eating food and savor every bite. Avoid eating quickly, eating while working or watching TV, and eating on the run.

  5. Plan meals in advance. Think about what you’d like to eat in advance. Plan your breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as those in-between snacks. Choose healthy items, and you’re more likely to look forward to what you know you’ll be eating instead of seeking out unhealthy foods to satisfy the random craving.

  6. Monitor your stress levels. It’s easy to get stressed during a pregnancy, and even lose some sleep over it. Stress and general moodiness from lack of sleep can lead to food cravings, and you may be tempted to soothe your nerves with food. To manage stress, try meditation or light exercise.

Healthy Swaps for Common Food Cravings During Pregnancy

So, what might you do when a craving hits? You could give in and just have whatever you’re craving in a small to moderate amount. Or, if it’s a food item that isn’t all too healthy, you might think about replacing it with a healthier yet still satisfying version. Here are some tips and options you might like to try when a specific food craving hits:

  • Ice cream. If you’re craving classic ice cream, how about replacing it with low-fat frozen yogurt, or with plain Greek yogurt sweetened with fruit preserves, applesauce, or honey? These healthier options are sure to hit the spot!

  • Potato chips/fries. Who doesn’t love salty potato chips and fries? Problem is, eating a lot of potato chips isn’t the healthiest option, especially since they’re laden with fryer oil. So, instead go for baked sweet potato chips/fries or baked vegetable chips, which are somewhat better. If you own an air-fryer, you might like to try air-frying your own homemade chips and fries. Or, for something different, switch to unsalted or lightly salted popcorn. Unsalted or lightly salted nuts are another healthier option, too.

  • Cookies. Having a cookie now and then won’t do you any harm, but if you find yourself craving them way too often, you might think about a healthier replacement. How about a sugar-free version of your favorite cookie? Or try something different like whole-grain crackers spread with a little peanut butter. You’ll still get the crunch factor of a cookie and a little sweetness and nuttiness from the peanut butter, which is a good alternative source of protein, too.

  • Chocolate. It’s OK to indulge in a few squares of chocolate as long as you don’t eat the entire bar—oops, you already did!? That’s OK, but instead of highly sweetened milk chocolate, opt for healthy dark chocolate (70 percent or higher), keeping in mind that dark chocolate also contains caffeine, which is better to limit during pregnancy. You might like to try dark chocolate-covered pretzels or pairing a square of dark chocolate with a handful of fresh berries—a fantastic flavor combo!

  • Bread, pasta, and cereal. Some people are carb people—and we love them! But instead of indulging in those soft white dinner rolls or using the classic white sandwich bread for your turkey club, choose bread with higher nutritional value and fiber, like whole-grain bread. It may not be what you’re used to, but it will keep you fuller for a longer time, which may lead to fewer cravings during the day. And, if you’re craving pizza, try one made with whole-wheat crust. If you’re craving pasta, opt for whole-grain varieties just as you would with bread. The same goes for cereal cravings you may be experiencing while pregnant—chose low sugar, high-fiber, whole-grain kinds.

  • Fast food. Nearly everyone yearns for fast food now and then, and it’s tempting to give into this craving when you’re pregnant. However, fast foods—whether Chinese food, Mexican food, or the classic cheeseburger—aren’t healthy. They’re loaded with trans fats and sugary sauces. So, if you can, why not try cooking your version of your favorite stir-fry, enchiladas, or grilled burger at home? You’ll satisfy your craving in a much healthier way and have no leftover guilt about it.

  • Soda. Sweet sodas do taste great now and then but drinking them regularly isn’t healthy. Instead try seltzer flavored with lemon or lime, mint, grated ginger, berries, or sliced cucumber. If that still doesn’t appeal to you, you could flavor the seltzer with sugar-free flavor drops in a variety of your favorite flavors. Think of this as your personal pregnancy craving mocktail! It’s important to avoid alcohol, however, as it’s unsafe to drink while pregnant.

Weird Pregnancy Cravings You Should Consult Your Healthcare Provider About

Some women may experience a craving for non-food items like laundry detergent, dirt, clay, ashes, paint chips, or ice during pregnancy. This is a condition called pica, which may be a sign of a nutritional deficiency.

If you have the urge to eat non-food items, such as the ones mentioned above, consult your healthcare provider immediately, and do not give into these cravings; they may be harmful for both you and your baby.

The Bottom Line

Pregnancy cravings are normal and can even be odd sometimes. You’ll probably even have a few amusing pregnancy craving stories of your own to share with family and friends. If you’re interested in learning more about food, nutrition, and your pregnancy, check out our Nutrition During Pregnancy guide.

Keep in mind that as long as you’re getting all the nutrition you and your baby need, indulging in a pregnancy craving and treating yourself occasionally is totally acceptable, and there’s no need to feel any guilt.

In the meantime, this is a great time to download the Pampers Club app. Stock up on diapers and wipes ahead of your baby’s birth and get cash back for all your purchases!