Pregnancy cravings – what do they mean?

Why do Hollywood movies often portray pregnant women craving pickles and ice-cream in the middle of the night? Is there any truth to it, and why do women have pregnancy cravings in the first place? Does it mean we should eat the craved foods or avoid them, or does it mean we’re actually craving certain nutrients to meet the demands of growing a small human?

Here we answer all of those burning questions and more. We know you’re curious about it – that’s why you’re here, after all!

Pregnancy cravings – what do they mean?

When do they start? For most women, pregnancy craving usually start in the first trimester, sometimes as early as five weeks. From there they’ll peak in the second trimester, and usually disappear by the third.

Why do they develop? In a nutshell, no one really knows why, and there’s no known link between cravings and any nutrient deficiencies.

What about food aversions? Many women also develop sudden food aversions as well as cravings, both of which are thought to have something to do with hormones changing the way some foods taste and smell.

What are common food cravings? They include chocolate and other sweet foods, fruit, deep-fried food, and dairy products. Sometimes there’s also an urge to eat unusual food combinations, or foods that aren’t usually eaten (some vegetarians have even been known to start craving meat).

How about the non-food cravings? Have you heard of (or experienced yourself) pregnant women craving soap, chalk, or charcoal? This is a condition called ‘pica’ and this may in fact be due to a mineral deficiency or severe iron. If this sounds like you, it’s important to see your doctor immediately to get your nutrient levels checked.

Are food cravings universal?

Interestingly, pregnancy cravings as a concept is not necessarily experienced in all cultures, according to research. In some non-English countries, for women who do report cravings, it’s for very different foods to what might be expected in Australia (such as fast food). For example, pregnant women in Japan report craving rice.

What this could mean is that pregnancy cravings are actually psychological and cultural. These certain foods bring pleasure during a physically and emotionally demanding time. A time where a woman probably feels quite restricted in what she eats and does, so a few ‘guilty’ pleasures are very appealing.

What to do about pregnancy cravings

  • Try to stick to a varied, nutrient-rich pregnancy diet, while occasionally indulging in your food cravings. Sometimes certain foods that are craved can lead to more weight gain than is generally considered healthy during pregnancy.
  • The key is to give into your cravings sometimes, but avoid bingeing on them. Use distractions or buy them only in small quantities. Also, look for good quality options.
  • Don’t do the grocery shopping when you’re hungry, and stock the pantry with plenty of healthy snack alternatives for between meals.
  • Eat regular meals to help prevent hunger, and drink lots of water.
  • Try to get plenty of sleep or rest whenever you can, as sleep deprived people tend to give into their cravings more.
  • Check out our list of pregnancy foods to include and avoid, and remember that there is no safe level of alcohol for your unborn baby, so not drinking it is the safest option during pregnancy.


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