Cravings during pregnancy

Are you hungry for something special? Are you craving something sweet or spicy? Lots of women have food cravings during pregnancy.

You have a food craving when you want a certain food really, really badly. You want a pickle, and you want it now! It’s usually OK to satisfy your food cravings, as long as what you eat is safe and you don’t eat too much of it. It’s OK to feed your craving, but try not to overdo it. Eat what you crave but in small amounts.

Eating too much of what you crave—especially sweet, spicy or salty foods—can cause problems, such as heartburn or gaining too much weight.  You need only 300 extra calories a day during pregnancy to support your baby’s growth. So grabbing fast food or snacking on chips every day to satisfy a craving may put you over the calorie count.

What causes food cravings?

We don’t know exactly what causes food cravings during pregnancy. They may be related to all hormones that are active in pregnancy. These hormones can make your sense of smell stronger, which can affect your sense of taste and make you want certain foods.

How can you handle your food cravings?

Here are some ways to help curb your food cravings:

  • Work your cravings into your everyday eating. Add salsa or relish to your meal for a bit of spice. Add sweetness with citrus fruits, melon and juices. 
  • Find healthier options. Instead of regular potato chips, try the reduced-fat kind. If you’re looking for something crunchy, go for carrots or a crisp apple. Try fresh fruit to satisfy your sweet tooth.
  • Don’t buy in bulk. When you can, buy single-servings of foods you crave. Don’t buy a whole bag of chocolate candy. Just buy one or two pieces.
  • Plan your snacks. Knowing what and when you’re going to eat between meals gives you something to look forward to.
  • Distract yourself. Do something to take your mind off your craving. Go for a walk. Call a friend.

What if you crave nonfoods?

Some pregnant women crave things that aren’t food. This kind of eating problem is called pica. Eating nonfoods during pregnancy can cause problems for you and your baby. If you’re filling up on nonfoods, they may not be safe. And they may make you feel full, which may keep you from eating healthier foods. 

Nonfoods include:

  • Ice
  • Clay
  • Laundry starch
  • Wax
  • Coffee grounds
  • Dirt

If you crave nonfoods, tell your health care provider.

What is a food aversion?

A food aversion is the opposite of a craving. Instead of wanting to eat a certain food really badly, you don’t want to eat it at all. Just like cravings, many pregnant women have food aversions.

You may find that you have aversions to foods with really strong smells, like onions, garlic, coffee, hamburgers and eggs. You may have them in early pregnancy with morning sickness.

Try to find substitutes for your food aversions. For example, if your aversion is to meat, substitute a food that contains a lot of protein, such as beans or fortified breakfast cereals. If your aversion is to dairy products, find other sources of calcium, such as dark leafy green vegetables or orange juice that’s fortified with calcium. If a food is fortified, it means that nutrients (like protein or calcium) have been added to it.

You may have aversions to food you never liked. Or you may have liked a food before pregnancy but can’t stand it now. Most women go back to the foods they used to like after pregnancy. But sometimes the aversion can stick with you for a long time, even after your baby is born.

Last reviewed: October, 2012