If you’ve been pregnant before or about to be, you’ve most definitely heard about pregnancy cravings. A pregnant woman may suddenly crave a very specific meal from a certain restaurant in the middle of the night, or combine foods that don’t make sense! (Pickles and ice cream, anyone?) But can pregnancy cravings lead to harmful effects? We talk about this topic in today’s blog.
Why do pregnancy cravings happen?
It’s not known exactly why pregnant women get cravings, but there have been studies about a few explanations. One is that it could be due to hormones. As women’s hormones change to adjust to pregnancy, sometimes you see it drop their dopamine levels which can cause cravings. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter or chemical messenger, that sends “messages” to other nerves in the body. It has a role to play in how we feel pleasure, think, plan, focus, and find interest in things!
Comfort food can play a role by raising our dopamine levels and make pregnant women feel good. This is especially true when a pregnancy craving hits!
There is also a theory that these pregnancy cravings come from their body signaling or urging their moms-to-be to eat more micronutrients they’re missing in their diet. For example, dairy cravings could mean there’s a calcium deficiency, and a sweets craving could mean a carb or calorie deficiency.
If you experience pregnancy cravings, you may be wondering how to handle them in the healthiest way possible? Are there kinds of cravings that are harmful?
Food Aversion and Pica
Unlike pregnancy cravings, where you’re aching for food you may not have had in years or an odd combo of pickles and ice cream, pregnant women can experience pregnancy food aversion. This is when a pregnant woman may find foods (and even smells) disgusting or offensive — especially when they were never bothered by them before pregnancy. Pregnancy food aversion tends to happen more during the first trimester of pregnancy when morning sickness is more common.
There is also another condition that can affect pregnant women called pica. Pica is the psychological urge to chew or eat non-food items, like crayons, clay, dirt, ice, laundry starch, and other odd substances. This condition can be harmful to pregnant women, especially since it can feel so overwhelming to carry through with such urges. If you think you’re experiencing such extreme urges to eat non-food items, speak to your doctor immediately. It may mean you have some dietary deficiencies (such as iron), and you’ll need help treating it so help avoid carrying through with this condition.
Pregnancy Cravings and Good Nutrition
As we mentioned that while pregnancy cravings aren’t completely understood about where they come from, it could be due to deficiencies in one’s diet and/or low dopamine levels. No matter which explanation, cravings can lead to consuming empty-calorie foods which can cause unnecessary weight gain and pregnancy issues for pregnant women.
Generally, it’s considered if you started at a normal or average weight before becoming pregnant, you should gain about 25 to 35 lbs while pregnant. However, if you started a bit overweight before pregnancy, you generally don’t want to gain more than 25 lbs while pregnant. This is why curbing cravings with healthy, nutritious alternatives is important!
If you find yourself craving a soda, try opting for naturally flavored mineral water (or you can make flavored water by adding freshly chopped fruit in your water)! Craving something salty? Instead of going for potato chips try eating some low sodium, low-fat pretzels, or popcorn. You may not always go for the most nutritious option for cravings every time, but if you start creating habits early on in your pregnancy it’ll make it easier to sustain healthy craving habits for the rest of your pregnancy.
If you have any questions about your pregnancy diet or your pregnancy cravings, you can always contact us. We are happy to help!