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Dealing with Pregnancy Cravings and Food Aversions

While the journey to parenthood is undoubtedly exciting, it can also come with its fair share of challenges, including managing pregnancy cravings and food aversions. Understanding the causes, common types, and how to deal with these cravings and aversions is crucial for a healthier and more comfortable pregnancy. Here, we'll explore the phenomenon of pregnancy cravings and aversions, their underlying reasons, what to avoid during pregnancy, and effective strategies to cope with them.

What Causes You to Crave Specific Foods?

Everyone craves certain foods at one point or another, but pregnant women seem to have insatiable desires that come on strong and never seem to subside. So, what causes you to obsess over a particular food? Oftentimes, food cravings can signal changes in your body's nutritional needs. For example, if you crave a pickle, it might be because you need more sodium or are experiencing low levels of electrolytes, and if you're craving chocolate, you may need more magnesium. However, cravings aren't always indicative of certain nutrient deficiencies. Some cravings are also directly linked to hormonal changes during pregnancy.

Common Pregnancy Cravings

Once pregnancy cravings start, you may find yourself with a strong desire to eat foods you didn't like before. While cravings can be many foods you should eat during pregnancy, others might not be as healthy. Understanding your pregnancy cravings can help you choose healthy alternatives that will fuel your body. Some of the most common cravings include:

  • Sweets: Many pregnant women have a heightened sweet tooth during pregnancy, often craving candies, chocolate, and desserts.
  • Sour Foods: Some women develop a strong desire for sour tastes, such as pickles, citrus fruits, or vinegar-based foods.
  • Salty Snacks: Cravings for salty snacks like chips, pretzels, and popcorn are also quite common.
  • Spicy Foods: Spicy foods, such as hot peppers or dishes with chili, may be craved by some expectant mothers.
  • Fast Food: A lot of pregnant women crave comfort food, especially from their favorite fast food restaurants.
  • Fruit: Fresh fruits like watermelon, strawberries, and apples are popular choices for pregnant women.
  • Ice Cream: A classic pregnancy craving, ice cream and other dairy-based treats are frequently sought after.
  • Carbohydrates: Foods rich in carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta, and rice, are often craved during pregnancy.
  • Red Meat: Some pregnant women have a strong urge for red meat, which may indicate a need for more iron.
  • Unusual Combinations: Pregnant women occasionally crave unique combinations of foods, like pickles and ice cream or peanut butter with pickles.

    Weird Pregnancy Cravings That Should Not Be Indulged

    While most pregnancy cravings are relatively harmless and can be indulged in moderation, some unusual cravings should be avoided for the sake of both the mother and the baby. These include:

  • Non-Food Items — Cravings for non-food items like clay, chalk, dirt, charcoal, soap, laundry detergent, pieces of paper, and stones is a condition called pica. This should never be indulged. These cravings may indicate serious nutrient deficiencies or underlying medical issues, and you should speak with your doctor immediately if you experience them.
  • Excessive Junk Food — Indulging in too much junk food can lead to excessive weight gain and a less balanced diet. Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet during pregnancy is essential to ensure the well-being of both the mother and the developing baby.
  • High-Caffeine Foods and Beverages — Cravings for foods and drinks high in caffeine, such as energy drinks or coffee, should be managed carefully. Excessive caffeine intake can have adverse effects on pregnancy, including increased risk of miscarriage and preterm birth.

    Why Do You Experience Food Aversions During Pregnancy?

    Food aversions are instances where you might suddenly hate the smell and taste (or one or the other) of a certain food or drink. This might result in nausea and vomiting, or you may just experience a general distaste for it. Oftentimes, this is something that you used to love, but don't worry—food aversions don't tend to last, and you'll be back to enjoying your favorite foods and drinks in no time. However, unlike cravings, vitamin or mineral deficiencies aren't what causes food aversions.

    Nonetheless, food aversions are common during pregnancy and tend to occur due to changes in hormone levels and may coincide with periods of morning sickness. Some women may also have a metallic taste in their mouths during early pregnancy, contributing to common food aversions. Another common cause of pregnancy food aversions is your heightened sensitivity to smells, which can also trigger morning sickness and nausea.

    Common Aversions

    Just as cravings vary, each woman's food aversions during pregnancy can be diverse and unique. Food aversions may also fluctuate based on how far you are in your pregnancy. Some common pregnancy food aversions include:

  • Meat: Many pregnant women develop an aversion to meat, particularly red meat and highly seasoned meats.
  • Strong-Smelling Foods: Foods with a strong smell, like garlic, onions, and certain spices, can be difficult for pregnant women to tolerate.
  • Fish: The smell and taste of fish can be off-putting for some expectant mothers.
  • Eggs: Eggs, particularly overcooked ones, often trigger an aversion.
  • Dairy Products: Some women find that dairy products, like milk and cheese, become unappealing during pregnancy.
  • Coffee and Tea: The smell and taste of coffee and tea can be aversive to some pregnant women.

    It's normal for foods you used to love to cause some issues, but don't worry. Aversions tend to dissipate after some time, but you may experience them on and off during your pregnancy. If you have any concerns, don't hesitate to contact your doctor.

    When Do Food Cravings and Aversions Start in Pregnancy?

    Oftentimes, pregnancy cravings and food aversions usually start during the first trimester. They're often an early sign of pregnancy, and they tend to disappear during the second trimester. Aversions will eventually get less intense and should be gone by the third trimester. While cravings are normal in a healthy pregnancy, if they continue to be strong well into your second trimester, it could be a sign of a nutritional deficiency (i.e., an iron deficiency). If you experience food cravings that don't seem to go away, contact your doctor to undergo vitamin and mineral testing.

    Changes in Appetite to Expect During Pregnancy

    During pregnancy, changes in appetite are not uncommon and can vary significantly from one woman to another. Many expectant mothers experience increased appetite, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy when the baby's growth demands more calories. On the flip side, some women may encounter a decreased appetite during the first trimester, often due to the discomfort associated with morning sickness or food aversions.

    Regardless, it's important to try to listen to your body's signals and eat nutrient-dense foods to meet your changing nutritional needs. Fluctuating preferences, occasional cravings, and aversions to certain foods are all part of the journey, making the pregnancy experience both unique and sometimes unpredictable. If you have any questions or concerns, don't hesitate to reach out to your doctor.

    Can Cravings and Aversions During Pregnancy Be Prevented?

    Unfortunately, there is no foolproof way to prevent pregnancy cravings and aversions. They are a natural part of the pregnancy experience. However, there are things you can do to manage them effectively and ensure they don't negatively impact your health and nutrition.

    How to Handle Food Aversions and Cravings

    While you should expect food cravings and aversions, you don't have to succumb to them and let them control you. Here are a few things to help you manage them until they pass:

  • Try to distract yourself with an activity or an errand.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water or infused water.
  • Indulge in your cravings (every once in a while), but don't go overboard when the cravings are unhealthy.
  • Avoid mindless eating by being conscious of each and every bite.
  • Plan meals in advance so you don't have to think too much when it comes to cooking.
  • Don't tell yourself you're "eating for two" to justify overeating—your body only needs 200-400 calories more per day during pregnancy.
  • Manage stress levels and consider keeping a journal of food to help you better understand your cravings and how to handle them.

When to See a Doctor

If you're experiencing any pregnancy cravings for things that aren't food, or are eating a lot due to excessive cravings, see your doctor. You may be suffering from a deficiency and the sooner it's addressed, the better. Additionally, if you have severe morning sickness or food aversions that make it difficult to maintain a healthy diet, your doctor can help you ensure that you're getting nutrients to help your baby grow.

To help support a healthy pregnancy, Byram Healthcare has plenty of resources, experts, and products available. We also have a large selection of free breast pumps through insurance available to new and expecting mothers to help supplement their nursing sessions. To learn more, visit our breast pump selection guide and start your order today.