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Pregnancy Cravings: When They Start and What to Do About Them

Suddenly, you’re hankering for a pint of ice cream and dill pickles. The funny thing is, these foods have never been your go-tos. Welcome to the world of pregnancy cravings! Read on as Flo explores the secrets behind pregnancy cravings and what causes them.

When do cravings start during pregnancy?

Early in pregnancy, you may not have noticed any weird cravings yet. However, you’re curious about what to expect and when. So, when do cravings start during pregnancy?

Typically, pregnancy cravings coincide with the onset of morning sickness, emerging by the end of the first trimester. For most people, cravings tend to spike during the second trimester and decrease as the third trimester progresses.

In fact, pregnancy cravings occur in roughly 50 to 90 percent of pregnant women in the U.S.  

Food cravings sometimes accompany food aversions, which lead to nausea and/or upset stomach. One of the most common aversions women develop is in response to the sight or smell of cooked or raw meat.

Not surprisingly, such aversions may be based on a survival instinct. Meat can contain dangerous bacteria that can harm the mother or child. Other pregnancy cravings can share a deeper, underlying cause.

What causes pregnancy cravings?

Some research has shown that pregnancy cravings arise from hormonal fluctuations. They affect your sense of smell, taste, and appetite, causing a desire for flavors, textures, and combinations that may seem strange sometimes.

Although pregnancy hormones can signal what your body needs to thrive (e.g., calcium), cravings tend to favor unhealthy food choices. This is why you’re far likelier to reach for a half-gallon of rocky road ice cream than a glass of skim milk.

The process of sustaining new life also ramps up your body’s energy requirements. A larger intake of calories will increase blood flow and aid in fetal development.

Lastly, some experts think pregnancy cravings indicate a normal desire for comfort as your body adjusts to unique physical stress.

Pregnancy cravings can occasionally feel like PMS on steroids. Next, we’ll look at the nine most common pregnancy cravings.

1. Sweets

Got a major sweet tooth lately? Pregnancy cravings often target sugary snacks such as chocolate or soda — and even fresh fruit. While the latter is loaded with vitamins and nutrients, candy and sweetened drinks can still make a healthy snack if they’re eaten in moderation. Try to buy dark chocolate, which is lower in sugar and contains heart-friendly flavonoids.

2. Dairy

Most dairy items contain both calcium and sugar, making them doubly appealing when you’re pregnant. This preference often appears around 34–38 weeks. If you’re concerned about opting for ice cream, consider switching to an equally satisfying lower-calorie frozen yogurt.

3. Starchy carbs

The physical toll that pregnancy takes over nine months can drain your energy reserves. As a result, popular pregnancy cravings include bread, pasta, potatoes, and other carbs to help fuel your body.

4. Fast food

Does a gooey slice of pizza or Chinese takeout sound especially good right now? Some researchers suspect these common pregnancy cravings are just your body’s way of demanding extra sodium and calories. 

5. Spicy foods

Cravings for hot chilis, for example, may be a natural mechanism your body uses to cool down by triggering sweat. As tempting as they seem, consider avoiding spicy foods if you’re experiencing heartburn or an upset stomach.

6. Pickles

Pickles — the stereotypical pregnancy craving — offer the high sodium content pregnant people often crave. They also deliver certain health benefits by alleviating muscle cramps and reducing the risk of diabetes.

7. Red meat

Unlike those who experience a strong aversion to it, some pregnant people have intense cravings for red meat. Hormone fluctuations and low iron levels might be responsible for this phenomenon. While it’s usually safe to consume red meat in moderation, check with your health care provider to make sure you’re not experiencing a nutritional deficiency.

In their official recommendations, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) suggests avoiding all undercooked and raw meat, eggs, seafood, and poultry during pregnancy.

8. Peanut butter

Your heightened sense of taste and smell could lead to this particular pregnancy craving. If you’re craving this rich treat, exercise portion control and spread it on wheat toast or your favorite fruit. This way, you’ll check more than one craving off your list!

9. Pica

Pica is a condition, possibly caused by an iron deficiency, that creates cravings for non-food items, such as burnt matches, dirt, clay, or ice. In most cases, the real reason remains unclear. If you’re drawn to dangerous or toxic substances, consult your health care provider.

What to do about pregnancy cravings

Your pregnancy cravings may not fade until your third trimester. So in the meantime, what’s the best way to deal with them?

  • Stock up on healthier snack options like dark chocolate, fruit, and yogurt. The easiest way to avoid junk food is to keep it out of the house.
  • Steer clear of foods that are not recommended during pregnancy. This includes undercooked or raw eggs, alcohol, certain types of meat, fish with high mercury levels, refrigerated smoked seafood, and unpasteurized dairy.
  • Practice moderation. Feel free to indulge in common pregnancy cravings, such as ice cream, as long as you know where to draw the line. After all, excess sugar can have major health consequences.
  • Find healthy non-food substitutes for food cravings. Consider taking a stroll outside or calling a friend.
  • Eat frequently (once every few hours) to stabilize your blood sugar levels and curb cravings before they happen.
  • Focus on good nutrition during pregnancy, but give yourself grace. Pregnancy can be difficult, and it’s absolutely OK to treat yourself once in a while.

Weird pregnancy cravings: When to contact your health care provider

If your morning sickness or food aversions become severe, make an appointment with your health care provider to discuss treatment options. Also, seek medical advice if you’re experiencing any signs of pica.

In general, pregnancy cravings shouldn’t be a cause for concern. By monitoring your nutritional intake, you can make sure you and your baby are getting the most out of your diet.

Natalia C.Orloff, Julia M. Hormes. “Pickles and ice cream! Food cravings in pregnancy: hypotheses, preliminary evidence, and directions for future research.” NCBI, U.S.National library of Medicine, 6 Aug, 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4172095/

Lama M.Al-Mehaisen, Naser A.Al-Husban, Alaa.I.Matalka, Oqba A.Al-Kuran.”Is there a relationship between children's behaviour and food cravings during pregnancy?” NCBI, U.S.National library of Medicine, 30 Oct, 2018,https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6694992/

A.J.Hill, V.Cairnduff, D.R.McCance.”Nutritional and clinical associations of food cravings in pregnancy.”NCBI, U.S.National library of Medicine,24 Sep,2015,https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5054961/

Leslie V.Farland, Sheryl L.Rifas-Shiman, Matthew W.Gillman.”Early Pregnancy Cravings, Dietary Intake, and Development of Abnormal Glucose Tolerance.”NCBI, U.S.National library of Medicine, 20 Jun,2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4663162/

“Nutrition During Pregnancy.”The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, ACOG FAQ001, June 2020,
https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/nutrition-during-pregnancy

“Listeria and Pregnancy.”The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, ACOG FAQ501, June 2018, https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/listeria-and-pregnancy

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