Have you started sending your partner out into the world at all hours of the night in search of a very specific ice cream flavor? Are you considering buying stock in pickles? Or, alternately, does a tiny whiff of tuna make you feel like you’re going to hurl? Welcome to the food cravings and aversions portion of pregnancy! Every day’s an adventure when you aren’t sure if you’re going to love the foods you once hated or vice versa.
Having truly fickle taste buds is a normal pregnancy symptom. Still, there’s a comfort that comes from knowing what causes these increased food turn-ons and turn-offs — and how to cope with them. Consider this your crash course in pregnancy cravings and aversions.
When do food cravings and aversions start, and how long do they last?
Because every pregnancy is different, there’s no hard-and-fast rule for when pregnancy cravings and aversions might kick in or how long they’ll last. According to the Mayo Clinic, changes in food preferences are among the early symptoms of pregnancy, occurring in the first trimester. They may peak in the second trimester before trailing off in the third, when you may notice a general lack of appetite.
In any case, it’ll probably feel like a lot longer to anyone sharing in your experience than it will to you. If you’ve ever, in your pregnant state, kicked someone out of the house for the smell of the Philly cheesesteak sub they were eating (true story), you don’t begrudge them their joy when your food cravings and aversions subside.
What causes food cravings and aversions during pregnancy?
The reasons women have certain food cravings or aversions during pregnancy are unknown. But, like many pregnancy symptoms, it’s suspected that these dietary differences could be due to hormonal changes going on in your body. In the first trimester, the level of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) in your system doubles every few days. Estrogen and progesterone are also on the rise. This influx of hormones may play a role in what your body thinks it needs right-this-minute-before-you-starve-who-cares-if-it-is-3-in-the-morning.
Many women also report increased olfactory sensitivity — or a heightened sense of smell — during pregnancy. So, even if you weren’t bothered by a smell before, it might repulse you now. Pregnancy has a way of throwing your senses out of whack, making everything seem like it tastes or smells more intense. Along those lines, food aversions and cravings are often associated with pregnancy nausea (aka “morning sickness”).
What’s the best way to handle food cravings and aversions?
Listen, you and your baby will both be fine if you occasionally indulge your newfound obsession with peach milkshakes. Don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t craving super-healthy and nutritious food. At the same time, remember that everything is fine in moderation. You don’t have to deny yourself; just try to balance out your more indulgent cravings with more nutritional options, too. One clever hack is to stock up on good foods and guilt-free indulgences, like your favorite yogurt, so you’ll always have something on hand. A hungry pregnant woman with cravings can not be denied!
As far as food aversions go, make everyone in your house aware of any foods that might make you nauseous. If your partner loves Mexican food but you can’t even say “guac” without triggering your gag reflex, ask them to take one for the team and eat something else (or take their food to the porch).
Are food cravings and aversions ever a cause for concern?
So, you ate a whole bag of Now and Later candies in one sitting. While it will surely cause a spike in your blood sugar, it’s unlikely to have any ill effects. Just don’t make a habit of it, okay? But if you get the urge to eat the actual bag of Now and Later candies — as in, the packaging it came in — it’s probably time to call your doctor.
You’ve probably heard of pica, right? It’s the term used to describe when someone craves substances with little or no nutritional value, typically non-food items. Although it’s most often seen in children, pregnant women do occasionally suffer from pica. Because eating non-food items (think paper, chalk, or dirt) could be harmful to both you and baby, you’ll need to work with your health care provider to help you address the cravings.
Written by Julie Sprankles.