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Pregnancy Cravings: What Do They Mean and What Should You Do?

Feb. 24, 2020

As many women come to learn, pregnancy isn't all peaches and cream — sometimes it's pickles and ice cream! In fact, most women in the U.S. will experience food cravings during pregnancy.

"I have many pregnant women coming in saying that they're craving foods like watermelon, pizza or even pickles," says Dr. Elizabeth Mosier, OB-GYN at Houston Methodist. "They wonder if the cravings are normal and why they're happening."

Common pregnancy cravings and aversions

A review of pregnancy blog posts found the most common cravings include:

  • Carbohydrate-heavy foods, such as pretzels and cereal
  • Cold foods, such as ice pops and slushies
  • Fast food, including takeout Chinese and Mexican food
  • Fruit and vegetables, particularly watermelon and tropical fruits
  • Meats, including steak and chicken
  • Savory or salty high-calorie foods, such as pizza and chips
  • Sweets, like chocolate and ice cream

 

Many expectant mothers also have aversions to some foods during their pregnancy, such as:

  • Coffee and tea
  • Eggs
  • Garlic
  • Meat or fish
  • Milk
  • Onions
  • Spicy foods

 

Why do pregnancy cravings happen?

"We don't completely understand why food cravings and aversions happen during pregnancy," Dr. Mosier says.

A few theories include the idea that:

  • Fluctuating hormones may lead to sensory changes, affecting the perception of foods.
  • Aversions to certain foods may help protect the mother from foodborne illness, while cravings for bland, carbohydrate-rich foods may help with nausea and vomiting.
  • Cultural expectations of cravings and what is acceptable in pregnancy may lead women to crave and indulge in more foods than they otherwise would.

 

Contrary to popular opinion, no scientific evidence supports the theory that foods are craved due to their nutritional value.

What to do when pregnancy cravings kick in

For the most part, there's no need to worry about pregnancy cravings and aversions. Giving in to the occasional desire won't have a big impact on your overall health. But if you constantly give in to unhealthy cravings, you could gain more weight than recommended for pregnancy and put your long-term health at risk.

The reality is that pregnant women don't really need to "eat for two." The recommended increase in calories in pregnancy is only about 300 calories per day.

Excessive weight gain in pregnancy and obesity increase the risk for complications, including:

  • Larger babies
  • C-sections
  • Preeclampsia
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Preterm birth

 

It also can mean more weight retention after delivery, which can add up over multiple pregnancies and impact your overall health. Controlling weight gain in pregnancy helps reduce these risks.

The recommended weight gain for most women is 25 to 35 lbs. total. If you are overweight before pregnancy, that changes to 15 to 25 lbs., and if you are obese then doctors recommend gaining no more than 11 to 20 lbs. in pregnancy to decrease the risk of complications for yourself and your baby. Your doctor will monitor your weight gain and help guide you throughout your pregnancy. If you are struggling with persistent cravings (especially non-food items like ice or clay), nausea or aversions to large food groups notify your doctor.

 

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