Mums-to-be have been experiencing food cravings since the dawn of time. Experts and old wives used to believe that the sudden desire to eat pickled eggs and ice cream was our body's way of telling us what nutrients we were missing, but as yet, we still don't understand why pregnancy can make us go off foods, as well as really want them.
“Nobody knows what causes cravings, but changing hormone levels, especially oestrogen, are suspected. Social and psychological factors are also key – in some cultures, pregnant women don’t get cravings,” says Dr Rana Conway, nutritionist.
In fact, the most recent research found that pregnancy cravings probably take hold because we feel more relaxed about food when we’re pregnant; we all know that eating for two is a myth but most of us do chill out about chocolate or munch on a bit of comfort food over the nine months.
“I never had any at all so I pretended to have a craving for chocolate! Lol! That came in really useful!” – Herbie
Does everyone get cravings?
It’s estimated that at least three quarters of expectant mums will get a craving at some point during their pregnancy. And while you may experience cravings in one pregnancy, you might not in another.
When do cravings start?
Pregnancy cravings typically start towards the end of the first trimester, get stronger and more frequent in the second trimester and then usually tail off towards birth, although this isn’t always the case. Cravings can also be an early sign of pregnancy.
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What are common pregnancy cravings?
Salty, sweet, sour, spicy, fatty, fruity, creamy, starchy, fizzy, cold, citrus, fish, vinegar - there’s no such thing as a normal craving! That said, researchers in the United States, who reviewed a huge amount of research on pregnancy cravings, did find that many mums-to-be went for savoury foods in their first trimester.
Writing in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, they also concluded that a preference for sweet foods was more likely to start in the second trimester, and by the time women reached the last leg of pregnancy, it’s salty foods that are back in favour.
Can cravings harm my baby?
Unless you’re excessively eating one kind of food or not following a varied diet, food cravings are harmless.
Do we crave certain things for a reason?
“I'm gluten free and I'm massively craving gluten! Hubby asked me to pass him a white bun for his burger when we had a BBQ last week and I could have stabbed him with the bread knife!! Ha! – mummytaylor2 (10 weeks)
If you eat a fairly well-balanced diet, it is unlikely that your craving is much more than a comfort experience to compensate for tiredness or a reaction to your changing diet.
If you’re concerned, as the old wives’ tale goes, that you crave the nutrients your body requires, then take a look at your diet and check it is well balanced. Often, it can be due to a lack of iron in your diet. If you have special dietary requirements, speak to your midwife or doctor about healthy substitutes or alternatives.
If you find yourself eating tons more fruit, it could be that you are finding this new health kick – less late nights, no boozing etc. – is genuinely pushing your body to enjoy those vitamin bursts you get from mango, oranges or whatever it is you love to gorge on now.
Babyhope16 (who’s anaemic), says, “I’m taking iron pills with orange juice...and I’m craving for fruits only - strawberries, watermelon, mango but with a little bit of salt??? and noooo meats of any kind please...”
You need to eat well during pregnancy and again this can cause a change in what you eat. If you were the kind of person who used to skip breakfast or have a light lunch, now that you’re pregnant, you simply just can’t do that. Instead, you’ll need to have small snacks through the day as well as your regular meals.
Why do I crave unhealthy foods?
“I'm such a healthy eater but have gone right off salad, fish makes me sick and all I want it greasy fatty horrible food like burgers and pizza?!” - shauniecapril
“…craving fast food/unhealthy food. Burger King is my enemy right now, chilli cheese bites!!!” - listha
“Anyone else craving salt and vinegar crisps like they are going out of fashion?” asks helenms (first trimester).
Our tendency to pig out on certain foods is complex but nutritional advisor Liz Tucker puts it down to needing an energy fix and the comfort factor.
Ice cream: “Ice cream is the ultimate comfort food – we crave it emotionally because it has past comfort associations,” says nutritional advisor Liz Tucker. “Ice cream’s appeal is also because it’s an energy quick fix, high in fat and sugar. Not always what we need!”
Crisps and fatty foods: “Craving crisps may show that your energy levels are low, as they are high in fat and a fast-release source of energy,” says nutritional advisor Liz.
Whilst there’s nothing wrong in having the occasional packet of crisps if eaten around a balanced diet, be aware that the effects of a snack like this are always short-lived, and it won’t help your energy levels or health in the long run.
I’m craving ice. Is this normal?
Sucking or crunching on ice cubes is a common pregnancy craving early on. "Lots of pregnant women crave ice because it's really refreshing, especially if you've got bad morning sickness," says Sue.
Some mums-to-be also experience sore gums during pregnancy and ice can help with this too. "The sensation of crunching and chewing on ice may help with easing the pain," she adds, but make sure you tell your dentist if there's any bleeding.
Why am I craving pickled onions?
There are two main reasons why we reach for the pickle jar during pregnancy. Firstly, tastebuds can often be suppressed during pregnancy so the combination of the strong acidic and pungent taste of vinegar and onions gets tired tastebuds tingling. Secondly, onions and vinegar both have stimulating properties. Vinegar was used in ancient medicine to clear congested airways and onions have fat-busting and cholesterol-reducing properties to help keep arteries clear - so put together, they can really give you a zing.
Beware of overdoing it though as too much acidity can cause damage to cells and digestive functions, resulting in muscle, joint and abdominal pain. It can also affect the absorption of nutrients and overstimulate metabolism.
Help – I’m a vegetarian craving meat and fish!
This is quite common, and could be your body’s way of telling you that you need more iron. Think first about whether or not your diet is well balanced, and has plenty of good proteins to compensate for the lack of meat you are eating.
If you are a fish eater, you should be fine. If you don't eat meat or fish (or are a vegan) you need to make sure you eat a sensible and nutrient dense diet.
If not, grab yourself a good vegetarian cookbook and it will tell you all you need about a balanced diet in the intro.
"I'm having exactly the same craving as last pregnancy, at the same time: Meat, and lots of it!" WaitingforBee2
Experiencing strange non-food cravings?
Some people develop overwhelming desires to eat things such as toothpaste, clay, charcoal, or even sponges (and we don't mean the cake kind). This condition is known as pica, and it’s important to see your GP if you think you might be suffering from this.
There are some studies that suggest pica in a mum-to-be could be associated with lower iron levels - even though most of the craved items don't contain any iron - but there still isn't any definitive evidence to confirm this.
"When I was pregnant with my daughter I craved dirt (yuk!). I used to buy new potatoes, not to boil, but to lick and smell the dirt lol." babymonkey75
“With both of mine I had a very strange craving...chewing on and sucking water out of a bath sponge! Had to be the right type of sponge though. The craving disappeared as soon as they were born.” – Leanne
So if you find yourself rummaging in the garage for leftover BBQ coal, talk to your midwife about getting checked out for any underlying problems.
I am craving the smell of petrol and cleaning fluids. Is this safe?
"You've got your pregnancy hormones to thank for your heightened sense of smell in your first trimester," says Sue Macdonald from the Royal College of Midwives. "As your sense of smell is heightened you're likely to want to satisfy this with a very intense smell," says Sue, "which could explain why some mums-to-be crave the smell of petrol."
Shauniecapril says, “With my other two pregnancies, I never got food cravings, just loved the smell of cleaning products!”
But this is one craving you shouldn't indulge in. Although smelling a small amount of these types of fumes is unlikely to harm your baby, it's not recommended. So send your partner to fill up on his own.
How can I stop the cravings?
Breathe and relax: if you have a craving, try doing five minutes of deep breathing before deciding if you really do need to eat that mega bag of Maltesers. The craving might pass...
Find healthy alternatives for your cravings: if it’s savoury food you’re hankering after, a much better alternative is to snack on nuts, seeds, oat cakes or vegetable sticks with some hummous. These foods have the benefit of slowly releasing energy. Wash it down with a couple of glasses of water and wait a few minutes to see if you still fancy those crisps or burger.
And instead of sugar, sweets and chocolate, go for yoghurt with fresh fruit or homemade rice pudding.
Can pregnancy cravings determine my baby’s gender?
Have you heard the one where if you crave sweet stuff, you’re having a girl and if you crave salty food, it’s a boy? Or, that if you crave citrus, you’re expecting a girl. Both are pregnancy old wives’ tales but did it come true for you?
“I had all the classic boy cravings! Cheese, salty fries, meat etc. bananas made me feel sick... Even just the smell of them. & i had LOTS of slush puppies!! (Though that may have been more down to the hot weather rather than pregnancy making me crave those!)” – SW2 (who did have a boy!)
The only cravings I really had were sausage and egg McMuffin when I was suffering really bad with morning sickness and the other one is ice cubes all the time in drinks and on their own!! Completely went off chocolate for months!” – Emma (who’s expecting a girl…).
Just some of the things our MadeforMums members craved when pregnant. Did you crave any of these too?
- “I'm currently craving ginger beer!” – emsypops
- “Just got cheese slices, Dairylea and cheese spread from morrisons. Last week it was fish and rice” – hannahbanana92
- “For the past week or so I have been having these crazy craving for Snickers ice cream. My hubby had been going back and forth to the store to get some to make sure they were in the fridge. Well the other day I had a total meltdown ‘cause he was eating one of MY ice creams!!!!” – mamabear0220
- “I can’t eat regular food at all, just fruits.” – babyhope16
- “I'm craving watermelon and guacamole (not together lol).” – hopefaith, at 9+5 weeks, who can only eat a few bites at a time before feeling nauseous.
- “All I can think of is spicy food.” – mandyn (7 weeks)
- “I was addicted to hamburgers when I was pregnant, had one every week until I gave birth and then I didn't crave it haha” – Charrz91
- “Throughout my pregnancy I've craved: A chinese takeaway, vinegar (lots!) and ketchup with chips, juicy apples, and soft whippy ice cream!” – MummyFee
- “With my first, I craved chicken enchiladas! Second and third (current) is cake! Particularly Kiplings Angel Slices.” – StubbornBrit
- “Ribena, cheese toasties & cockles.” – Amy
- “Tomatoes in milk.” – Natalie
- “Milk. Pints and pints of milk. But specifically full fat cravendale milk.” – Emma
- “Coconut ice cream and raw carrot sticks, straight from the fridge cold. Not together!” – Kate
- “Cream of chicken soup. Beef monster munch.” – Geraldine
- “Burger King Whoppers and fizzy orange. Then real lemonade and lastly Branston pickle.” – Sarah
- And finally, Amy, who seems to have covered the lot…
- “With first, I couldn't eat or even smell pizza n Mexican food. I lived on Polos & the first time she was allowed to pick sweets, it was always Polos!!!! 2nd I can't remember... 3rd it was Radox bubbles & blue Lenor - yes I contemplated eating them lol... 4th was cola & Clover butter!!!”