My eldest daughter is nearly eight-years-old now. When she was just a wee thing growing in my belly, even before I knew she was there, something truly strange happened to me. I was living abroad in South Korea and I’d stopped at a café, not an uncommon occurrence. But what WAS strange was what I ordered.
I’d ordered a sandwich and what was puzzling about my choice was that I didn’t ask for them to make it sans tomatoes.
Growing up, I absolutely loathed raw tomatoes on salads or sandwiches. They made me cringe. I remember very clearly wanting that tomato and not knowing why (at least not while I was eating it).
My father always teased me because he was an avid tomato freak. And now, here I was, making him proud 8,000 miles from home, eating a tomato and not cringing with disgust
I came home and checked my calendar. I realized I was late but not by much. When a few more days passed, I went to a pharmacy and got a pregnancy test, though looking back, that tomato was all I needed to know I was pregnant.
Pregnancy Cravings – What Are They?
Pregnancy cravings are just what they sound like – they’re desires for foods that may or may not be out of character for our tastes. For example, some women crave nachos which might not be strange for them. It’s a sudden and overwhelming urge to eat those nachos RIGHT NOW.
And it’s not just about the insistence on having them immediately. It usually comes with some other random, unaffiliated item. Whereas when you’re not pregnant, you might crave Mexican food on any day, but during pregnancy, you may also want pickles with that or a banana milkshake.
Other times, it’s cravings like I had – the overwhelming desire to eat something you’ve previously despised. For the most part, it’s totally normal. Some cravings aren’t, which I’ll discuss further on.
What Causes Pregnancy Cravings?
You know what I always found funny? With all the technology we have today, doctors still can’t accurately predict when you’ll go into labor. The same is true of pregnancy cravings. They just aren’t sure why pregnant women get such an intense urge for certain foods, flavors, textures, or oddball food combinations.
Some factors might shed some light on the subject of pregnancy cravings though.
Hormones can do a lot of interesting things to a woman’s body. If you’ve ever gotten cravings for certain things before pregnancy, perhaps at certain points during your monthly cycle, you’ll know what I mean. I can almost always predict my period is about to start by my sudden and desperate urge to drive-thru Taco Bell or my wall of willpower completely crumbling in favor of cramming chocolates in my mouth. How is it different from pregnancy? Because the cravings tend are most often out of the norm for you.
- Over-sensitive senses
On top of over-the-top hormones, your taste receptors and sense of smell will be able to pinpoint all sorts of things. Some of it will be good – you’ll pick out the warming sweetness of cinnamon in a cup of hot chocolate at your local café.
Others of it will be horrible, such as when I’d get a whiff of durian, a terribly stinky fruit found in China (where I moved shortly after living in South Korea) that even has been banned from being consumed on public transit for being so pungent. I didn’t care for the smell before I was pregnant, but the smell of it during my pregnancy caused me to dry heave.
- Nutritional cries for help
There is some evidence that your body causes you to crave the things your body needs while making you feel queasy over things that aren’t good for you. I was once a smoker. But one day while walking to the subway to get to my teaching job, I went to light up a smoke and I felt sickened by it. I believe this occurred shortly before the tomato incident.
Smelling alcohol on the businessmen coming back on the train at night when I was done with my night classes also made me turn green, and not with envy. Instead, I was gravitating toward more healthful options, and the experts say the reason is that your body is telling you what it needs.
- The need for an internal hug
While you don’t need to be pregnant to want (or even need) comfort food, you may find that during pregnancy, those foods from your childhood and heritage are most comforting. If mashed potatoes are calling your name, or you have to visit Mom because you need her meatloaf, enjoy it!
When Do Pregnancy Cravings Start?
Doctors report that most women start cravings in the first trimester. Those cravings tend to become stronger in the second trimester and then taper off in the third trimester. Very rarely do cravings linger after you’ve given birth.
Simultaneously, most pregnant women also have one food aversion at the very least, sometimes more. It’s often something that you previously enjoyed. You don’t even need to see that food for it to trigger those adverse feelings either. Just the thought of it might sicken you. Many times, it comes linked with morning sickness and nausea.
When I had my whole love affair with tomatoes, I was probably about 6 weeks along. I had no idea I was pregnant. I also intensely craved anchovies. Interestingly, my newfound love of tomatoes has tapered off over the years but I eat them even now, years after my second child was born. And anchovies? I always want them on pizza even still. As my brother said, “Wow! You’ve turned into Dad!”
Common Pregnancy Cravings
Wondering what foods you might soon be craving now that you’re pregnant? Here are some of the more common ones that women report having.
For me, I already had a big sweet tooth. Interestingly, that didn’t go out of control once I was pregnant. It stayed the same, though I did have a moment with butterscotch. For my friend Laurie-Ann though, she never liked sweets until she was pregnant. Cookies, ice cream, candy, and anything sweet, she had to have it.
Dairy is another common craving for pregnant women. I remember just wanting to down a glass of milk. And I wasn’t alone. Most of the pregnant women I knew said the same thing. My desire to gobble up lots of cheese? That was something unchanged from my pre-pregnancy days. Interestingly, I had the urge for milkshakes which falls in the sweet/dairy spectrum. But I also had cravings for bananas! Keep reading to find out how I handled that one.
- Heavy carbs
Carbs are the ultimate comfort food. Don’t be surprised if your brain is screaming “French fries!” or even for mashed potatoes, loaves of bread, or pizza. Potatoes though do seem to top the list, perhaps because they are in fact good for your body (except maybe when you fry them of course).
Perhaps my biggest craving, even bigger than the tomato and anchovy thing, was my urgent need for fruits. In fact, I once wouldn’t let my husband back into our house until he came back with a box of mangos from the market. For both my pregnancies, I desperately needed mangos. I also wanted to eat bananas every day. Other women point to lemons as an urge for them. Not just in fruit form either but as dessert, like a lemon tart. There seems to be a lot of overlap with the most common cravings!
Some women report that they randomly adore vegetables during pregnancy. Broccoli, which often gets a bad rep for being something children hate, becomes intensely craved by some moms-to-be.
- Fast food or different cuisine
Other cravings women get when they’re expecting are for takeout or drive-thru items. As these tend to be fattier and less nutritious, it’s fine to indulge these cravings but not all the time. Plus, they often contain more sodium than other options. A common one that many women seem to report is Chinese food. This was not the case for me as, mid-pregnancy, my husband and I had moved to his hometown in China.
Relevant: Should you eat Chinese foods during pregnancy?
Now that I think about it, I craved the Americanized version of Chinese food. But my mother-in-law’s cooking? It disgusted me even more than usual.
It’s not known why, but pickles are one of the most commonly reported cravings of pregnant women. Pickles and ice cream. Pickles and chocolate. Pickles and cheese. Or just plain pickles right from the jar. Perhaps it is the saltiness we crave, and being that pickles are just fermented cucumbers, maybe it’s our own bodies trying to get us something salty and relatively healthy simultaneously. The experts still don’t know!
In the days before ultrasounds, there were many moms that wanted to know what they were expecting, a boy or girl. That’s why it should come as no surprise that there are many old wives’ tales about what your cravings mean when it comes to the sex of your baby.
Even if you’ve asked your OB/GYN not to reveal the sex of the baby during your ultrasound, you may have fun looking back on your cravings after giving birth to see if there’s any merit to these old wives’ tales. Experts say this isn’t a reliable predictor, but it’s fun all the same.
Girls are Sweet
My grandma used to say, “Girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice.”
While she had long been gone by the time I was an expectant mother, this was something that popped into my head. As mentioned, I always loved sweets, and that really didn’t change during my pregnancies.
When I look back, I tended to move toward sweeter things, even fruits, which are naturally sweet. According to these myths, those sweet cravings mean you’re going to have a girl. I felt this way during both pregnancies, and both my children are girls. Is it science? Of course not, but it’s certainly interesting!
Boys are Salty and Sour
On the opposite end of the spectrum, if it’s salty stuff you crave like chips and cheeseburgers with extra pickles or sour, like a tall glass of lemonade, they say you should get ready for a boy. I do recall having a few salty cravings, though nothing sour that stands out in my mind. But overall, I remember fruity things being my most wanted foods.
My friend Eileen had cravings for both salty and sweet things all the time. As it turned out, she had fraternal twins – one boy, and one girl.
Ok, so what’s not-so-normal for pregnancy cravings then? Here are a few I’ve found that really stood out:
- Deviled eggs
- Tomato soup with M&Ms
- Hot sauce
- Peanut butter and bologna
Just to name a few. Ask any of your friends that have been pregnant before if they ever had an unusual craving. While these are certainly a little strange, and a lot amusing, these aren’t dangerous cravings to have.
When Should You Worry About Food Cravings?
The food cravings you’ll experience during your pregnancy might be strange, but most of them are harmless. But some things are indeed dangerous and should be discussed with your doctor immediately if you crave them constantly.
Among them, raw meat and sushi are often reported. While steak tartare and sushi are epicurean delights, when you’re pregnant, there’s a greater risk of it containing parasites and being contaminated with listeria. This can cause you to miscarry or even have a stillborn.
Some women, though not very many, crave alcohol or drugs while they are pregnant. If you are among them, please do not give in to these cravings and talk to your doctor at once to keep you as well as your baby safe from harm.
There are other women though that crave non-food items. It’s a condition called Pica. If you find yourself resisting the urge to eat things like soap, dirt, charcoal, stones, mothballs, plaster, or even the contents of an ashtray, tell your doctor immediately.
Like other pregnancy cravings, it is unknown why women crave these non-food items, but many experts speculate it could be from a deficiency in certain vitamins or minerals while others say it could be an indication of an underlying illness, physical or mental.
How To Handle Your Pregnancy Cravings?
While “eating for two” is part of the fun, you’ll need to indulge sensibly or else wind up gaining more weight than you bargained for. Still, when those cravings strike, here’s how to feel satisfied.
Think logically about sugary or fatty cravings
There are some foods you’ll crave that aren’t the best nutritionally. If you’re craving chocolate, choose a small bar of it or drink a low-fat glass of chocolate milk instead. If you want French fries, get only a small order of them or consider baking some in your oven instead. In this way, you satisfy your cravings without going overboard.
If that attempt to satisfy your cravings sensibly doesn’t work, try a distraction. Go for a walk, read a book, talk to a friend, or find some other reasonable distraction. Whatever works for you to get your mind off the craving is a great idea.
Give in reasonably
Remember, giving into that donut craving every now and then is just fine. But if you want to eat a dozen donuts a day, that’s a different story. Order only one and savor every bite of it. You’ll be less likely to go nuts (or dough-nuts, pardon the pun). Whatever you do though, don’t give in to any dangerous cravings like alcohol, drugs, or those non-food items we previously discussed.
How I Nurtured My Pregnancy Cravings Nutritiously?
There are ways to give your body and mind exactly what it’s craving in a nutritious way. As I mentioned before, I wanted to drink milk. I wanted bananas. And I wanted milkshakes.
Part of what helped me was living in Asia, a place where you can’t just find milkshakes on every corner. We had a blender at home so what I’d do to indulge myself healthfully was take three bananas, peel them, and toss them in the blender. I’d cover them most of the way with icy cold milk, and then, I’d sprinkle a little cinnamon and a couple drops of vanilla extract in there.
That was my banana milkshake. I got my dairy. I got my bananas. And I got my sweet craving all in one.
You can also freeze banana slices and then use them in your blender to make mock ice cream. It will trick your taste buds with the texture and will satisfy that ice cream craving in a healthier way. You can also add cocoa powder to it or peanut butter to knock out those other cravings.
Is There A Way To Prevent Pregnancy Food Cravings Or Stop Aversions?
Generally, the answer is no. But like my banana milkshake above, you can find ways to dodge those cravings and steer them in a better-for-you direction. You’ll have to wait and see what tickles your fancy, and what tickles your gag reflex.
For cravings, try stocking up on healthier versions of the items you’re after. Yogurt is a great choice when you want ice cream. You can freeze it for a healthier alternative.
And as for those aversions, if you find something you usually enjoyed having at your dining table disgusts you, just keep it out of the house. If you encounter it on your way to or from work, at your office, or randomly at a restaurant, try carrying something pleasantly scented to avoid setting off your aversion completely.
Interestingly, it was found that food cravings don’t have much to do with morning sickness, but the avoidance of certain foods might. For example, meat is something many women are put off by during pregnancy. Not necessarily eating it but the cooking and preparing of it can make many moms-to-be feel sickened.
Research has also shown that women had more bouts of morning sickness when they consumed larger amounts of meat. They think it has to do with protecting ourselves since meat has a higher risk of bacterial contamination. No mention though on the recent outbreaks of E.coli and listeria found on vegetables though. The FDA does provide some great plant-based safety tips though!
The Bottom Line On Food Cravings For Pregnant Women
Basically, the short version of the story is most women get cravings during pregnancy. However, there are no clear, proven reasons why you desire certain foods over others. More than likely, it’s your hormones causing all the ruckus. While much of it remains a mystery, experts unanimously agree that cravings can’t be used to effectively determine the sex of your baby, though it is a fun guessing game!
Listen to your body and give it what it wants (except for those dangerous items we discussed) but within reason. You should enjoy your pregnancy, but at the same time, too much indulgence can lead to gaining more weight than your doctor suggests, gestational diabetes, or elevated blood pressure, to name a few.
Make sure when you’re satisfying your cravings that you’re taking good care of your health at the same time. The key is a balance so if you can’t help yourself and must get McDonald’s fries and a Filet O’ Fish right now, eat a sensible dinner to make things right.
Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and delicious pregnancy!
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California, where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs.
She loves eating too much sushi, exercising, and jamming out on her Fender. Read more about Leslie here.