Pregnancy cravings and food aversions

Not everyone gets cravings when they are pregnant, but some people do, and even crave foods they might not have expected!

If you find that you are reaching for certain foods more often than before you were pregnant, you may be experiencing cravings. Cravings are not necessarily about being hungry, but about wanting specific food or drinks that are often very difficult to resist.  

Much like the pregnancy myth of ‘eating for two’, weird pregnancy cravings are often thought of as part of being pregnant. Not everyone craves pickles and ice-cream and you may not experience any cravings at all! 

If you have pregnancy cravings, they will probably begin during your first trimester and get stronger into the second. By the third trimester, they usually start to disappear.  

Usually foods cravings are nothing to worry about, unless you start craving things that aren’t food. But if you feel like they are stopping you from having a healthy balanced diet, it’s important to talk to your midwife or GP.

Similarly you may find yourself going off the taste of to certain foods and drinks. Some common things that people have this reaction to are alcohol, drinks that contain caffeine, fatty foods and meat. A study has suggested that a pregnant person’s body may have this reaction to meat to protect the baby from potential toxins, triggering a dislike of the smell. Most women avoid alcohol during pregnancy and it is best to limit your caffeine intake.

What causes pregnancy cravings?

More research is needed to fully understand why cravings happen. Some theories have been linked to the fact that hormonal changes in pregnancy can alter your sense of smell and taste. Some women notice a strange taste in their mouths, which can be described as metallic. Others report having a more sensitive sense of smell and may find they dislike the smell of certain foods that they didn’t mind before. Just as these changes may cause you to no longer like some foods or drinks you used to enjoy, they can also cause cravings for others.  

Another thing that might trigger cravings is the fact that during pregnancy, your body often needs more nutrients to help your baby develop. For example, it is important that you are getting enough iron, vitamin d and calcium.

It has been suggested that cravings are your body’s way of telling you that you are lacking certain nutrients. Certain other studies have looked at psychological influences on cravings such as craving chocolate because it is a well-known comfort food. It is most likely a combination of these factors that lead to a pregnant women’s urge to crave certain foods. The best thing to do is eat a varied and balanced diet in order to keep your energy levels up and make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you and your baby need. 

What are the most common pregnancy cravings?

If you search for pregnancy cravings on the internet, you will find all sorts of unusual stories. Often these foods include sweet, fatty or starchy foods like bread and pizza. and salty foods. There is no harm in consuming small amounts of these foods as a treat. But it is important to make sure you control enjoy them as part of a balanced diet

Craving non-food items (Pica)

You should contact your GP or midwife if you begin to crave items that are not food. You may have a condition called pica that can be caused by an iron deficiency and can be a sign of severe anaemia. If you have pica, you may crave some of the following, among other non-food items: 

  • clay or dirt
  • ice or freezer frost
  • stones 
  • charcoal
  • soap
  • pieces of paper
  • chalk.

Orloff NC, Hormes JM. (2014). 'Pickles and ice cream! Food cravings in pregnancy: hypotheses, preliminary evidence, and directions for future research'. Front Psychol 5: 1076

NHS Choices [accessed 20/11/20] Signs and symptoms of pregnancy. NHS Choices, Health A-Z. 

Pepper GV, Craig Roberts S. (2006) Rates of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy and dietary characteristics across populations. Proc Biol Sci. 2006;273(1601):2675-2679.

Start4Life [accessed 20/11/20] Pregnancy FAQs:

Review dates
Reviewed: 05 March 2021
Next review: 05 March 2024

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