When Do Pregnancy Cravings Start? How to Manage Them, and What to Avoid

Pregnancy brings a lot of changes to your life and body. Not only can you expect hormone swings, weight gain, and morning sickness, but you will also likely have some sort of intense food craving at some point during your nine months of pregnancy.

It’s best to be prepared to handle them and know when these cravings can be expected to start.

when do pregnancy cravings start

When to Expect Pregnancy Cravings?

If you one of the many lucky women to experience pregnancy cravings, you can probably expect them to start during your first trimester.

They may not be very strong during this time due to morning sickness.

But once the morning sickness subsides, you may find that your cravings really kick into gear during the second trimester.

They will intensify through this period before subsiding in the third trimester.

Very few cravings remain after pregnancy, so you don’t need to worry about wanting pickles with ice cream after the baby is born.

Why Do Pregnancy Cravings Happen?

Pregnancy cravings are very common, but the exact cause can be a combination of things that will differ in each person. 

Women experience them at such different levels of intensity that it is difficult to make sound conclusions on the cause.

The major contributors are as follows:

Psychology

There is an argument that pregnancy cravings are purely psychological for several reasons.

First, women who have an affinity toward a certain food or substance prior to pregnancy are likely to have a craving for it during pregnancy as well.

This could be something dangerous like drugs or alcohol, or it could be something less concerning like ice cream or spicy foods.

Second, it has been seen that maternal instinct often overcomes even the most powerful cravings; a nicotine dependent woman may have no trouble restraining herself from cigarettes in order to keep her baby safe and healthy.

This shows that she has full control over herself and her cravings.

There are also cultural factors that play a role in the type of cravings women experience.

It has been shown that women typically crave what is readily available in their home country begging the question: are pregnancy cravings really a mystery or uncontrollable?

Nutritional Deficiencies

Some believe that pregnancy cravings are related to certain nutritional deficiencies, particularly sodium, iron, and calcium.

The body craves what it is missing which may manifest in a minor craving for something ordinary or could intensify into cravings for non-food substances (we will talk about the latter shortly).

While there may be a link between certain food cravings and nutritional deficiencies, these cravings are likely more about what your mind wants rather than what your body actually needs.

If pregnancy cravings were solely based on nutritional deficiencies, women would likely only crave nutrient-rich foods due to their bodies’ need to double the requirement of certain nutrients to support a growing fetus.... We know that this just isn't the case.

Hormones

Your body goes through some crazy hormonal changes during pregnancy, and these hormones are the most likely cause of changes to your food preferences during pregnancy.

Not only can your hormones leave you craving ice cream and chocolate, but they can also can food aversions particularly during the first trimester.

You may find yourself feeling sick with a certain food you had no problem with prior to pregnancy.

Sometimes just the smell of a particular food is enough to make your stomach start doing backflips, or it may just be the taste alone.

Some of the most common culprits are meat, dairy, eggs, and vegetables.

If there is a certain food that makes you feel ill early on in pregnancy, it’s probably best to avoid it until you get into your second trimester when most pregnancy sickness has subsided and hormone levels have levelled out.

Can You Over Indulge When Eating for Two?

​​​The old phrase “eating for two” is very misleading and actually not necessary when you are pregnant. 

Yes, you do need to up your daily calorie intake to help your little baby to grow, but you don’t necessarily need to double your food intake.

In fact, doing so could be harmful to you both.

Excessive weight gain during pregnancy can lead to several potential issues for you and your baby including gestational diabetes, high birth weight, an increased chance of birth via C-section, and a longer recovery time.

At the same time, not gaining enough weight can be just as risky. You could put your baby at risk for low birth weight as well as premature birth, warranting a stay in the NICU.

To prevent these problems, talk to your doctor about a healthy diet and weight gain for your pregnancy. 

Focus on a well-balanced diet, limiting overly fatty, fried, or sugary foods to ensure your baby gets the right vitamins and nutrients they need to develop properly.

Since you do need to slightly increase your calorie intake, it is best to do so gradually.

There is little need to eat much more during your first trimester. Instead, you should focus on the quality of your meals rather than the quantity.

As the pregnancy continues, you can slowly increase to a 2,200-2,900 calorie diet, depending on your personal health and pre-pregnancy weight. Be sure to

How to Manage Cravings

Your cravings may be telling you something; your body may be telling you is needs a certain ingredient or nutrient rather than the specific food itself.

Knowing what your body needs can help you to make healthier snack choices.

Sugar

Undoubtedly, one of the most common pregnancy cravings is sugar. After all, all the hormonal changes can make you feel like your body is going through a long and intense menstrual period.

While hormones can leave you truly craving sugar, you also want to make sure your prenatal vitamin has enough folic acid to keep you from feeling tired and sluggish, which can leave you craving sugar.

Staying hydrated can also stave off sugar cravings.

If you feel the urge coming on, try drinking a glass of water and waiting about 10 minutes before you look for a snack.

If the urge is overwhelming, you can find some healthy substitutes to stave off a sugar craving and prevent you from grabbing a donut on your way to work, or downing that entire pint of ice cream in one sitting.

Keep your fridge stocked with fresh fruits; blueberries and sweet apples are particularly effective at satisfying a sweet tooth.

Being prepared with easy to prepare alternatives such as green smoothies, bananas with nut butter, or fruit and yogurt with honey.

Of course, if you give in to your cravings once in a while, it’s not the end of the world.

The point is to avoid overindulging so that your baby stays healthy and you don’t gain too much weight during your pregnancy.

pregnancy cravings

Other Cravings

There are other common cravings amongst pregnant women that deserve looking at as well.

Pickles are very popular with pregnant women and the intense craving may be a sign that you are low on sodium.

The good news is that pickles are relatively low in calories and inexpensive so you can pretty much eat as many as you want.

It is also common for women to crave lemons, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – they’re a fruit after all – but can cause tooth enamel erosion if you each the fruit in excess.

Try sticking to lemon juice in your water and drinking with a straw.

Morning sickness is another cause of improper eating during pregnancy.

Many women reach for sodas and ginger ale to each their nausea in the morning, but sodas are high in sugar. Instead, try some sparkling water with fresh fruit or lime.

A craving for red meat can mean that you are deficient in iron or protein.

Red meat itself is not unhealthy, but too much can increase your risk for heart disease. Choose lean cuts and eat in moderation.

Some women can’t get enough spice in their food while they are pregnant. It could just be that they like spicy foods or it could be their bodies’ way of telling them it needs some help cooling down.

Spicy food can help your body sweat and drop a few degrees, a necessity toward the end of pregnancy when your body is holding onto a lot of heat. Just make sure your spicy foods are baked and not fried.

Ice cream (and other dairy products) cravings could just be due to the fact that you love ice cream, or it could be your body’s way of telling you it needs more calcium.

Calcium is good for developing babies, but you need to make sure you make healthy choices like low-fat milk, low-fat string cheese, and cheddar cheese. 

If you really need some ice cream, try some non-fat frozen yogurt with fruit.

Keep a Food Journal

The best way to keep track of what you eat is to keep a food journal. There are even some great smartphone apps that help you track your calorie and nutrient intake through a food database.

These can help you ensure you keep to a mainly healthy diet throughout your pregnancy.

It also keeps a record for you to discuss with your doctor if you have questions or concerns.

Foods to Avoid While Pregnant

Arguably more important than the amount of food you eat during pregnancy is the type of food you eat. Your baby is highly susceptible to illness and infection if you are not careful about what you eat.

Their developing bodies cannot handle the same stuff we can as adults.

To keep your baby safe, you want to be sure to avoid these foods during pregnancy:

  • Raw meat (including sushi and raw egg): risk of salmonella poisoning, toxoplasmosis, or infection from coliform bacteria
  • Certain types of fish: shark, swordfish, and mackerel are a few that contain high levels of mercury; others like bluefish, striped bass, salmon, and trout, if you aren’t selective about the origin, could have been potentially exposed to pollutants
  • Deli meat and soft cheeses: may contain listeria, which can cause miscarriage
  • Caffeine: should be limited to 200 mg per day to avoid miscarriage, premature birth, and low birth weight
  • Alcohol: can lead to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and other developmental issues
avoid wine while pregnant

If you do have a craving for some of these, there are some ways you can enjoy a few of them without the associated risks.

Choose fish that are low in mercury and high in healthy fats, which are good for brain development.

Be sure that your deli meats are heated if you want a cold cut sandwich. 

Decaffeinated coffee can also satisfy your taste for a cup of joe.

Five Tips to Overcome your Cravings

Pregnancy cravings can seem overwhelming at times, but they are highly manageable if you plan ahead and set yourself up for success:

  1. Keep a schedule for your day to make sure you are eating several small, healthy meals to prevent sudden attacks of hunger that may lead to you reaching for that prepackaged snack.

  2. Drinking water between meals will keep you hydrated and prevent you from feeling overly hungry but don’t ignore real hunger. You and your baby need proper nutrition for successful growth.

  3. Whether you are pregnant or not, it’s best not to go grocery shopping on an empty stomach. You are more likely to choose quick and easy – but unhealthy – foods rather than fruits and vegetables.

  4. Get plenty of rest. Growing a little human is hard work and is sure to have you needing a few naps every now and then. It has also been shown that people who are sleep deprived are more likely to crave junk food.

  5. Keep your fridge and pantry stocked with quick but healthy snacks to help you out when hunger strikes. Prepping some cute fruits and vegetables as well as pre-portioned trail mix with nuts, dried fruits, and pretzels or popcorn can also help.

Other Considerations

You also need to be aware if you start to crave non-food substances as this may be a sign of a highly dangerous condition called pica

This can be defined as the overwhelming craving for substances like:

  • Stones
  • Dirt
  • Charcoal
  • Ice (only a concern if accompanied by other dangerous cravings)
  • Sand
  • Soap
  • Plaster
  • Coffee grounds
  • Toothpaste
  • And more…

Indulging in these cravings can be harmful to you and your baby since it can interfere with your body’s nutrient absorption.

You also put your baby at risk for exposure to toxic or parasitic ingredients.

It’s not very common amongst pregnant women – being more common around 25-30% of children – but it is still something to be aware of and talk to your doctor about as it could be a sign of a serious nutrient deficiency.

Final Word

Pregnancy cravings can feel overwhelming at times but with preparation and healthy alternatives you can get through your pregnancy without feeling miserable from overindulging.

Feel free to enjoy a treat every once in a while, but dedicate your time and energy to keeping you and your baby healthy both during pregnancy and after birth.

Questions or comments about pregnancy cravings? Let us know!

If you have already gone through pregnancy, share your common cravings and how you were able to combat the overwhelming urges.

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