You’re in your first trimester of pregnancy and suddenly you’re nearly bowled over by a powerful craving for a certain food. Sure, you’ve heard about the old stereotype of pickles and ice cream at midnight. But there’s no way you could have been prepared for how overwhelming the feeling could be. That’s the strange reality of pregnancy cravings: They can be sudden, intense, and at times downright bizarre.
Although there are many myths surrounding food cravings or aversions during pregnancy, the truth is, we don’t know exactly why they happen or what they mean. Some women never even experience them. Other women find themselves driven to distraction by an obsessive need for foods that they might never have eaten in the past. Whether it’s pineapple, chocolate, or even peanut-butter-and-bacon sandwiches – and whether it lasts for just a week or for the entire nine months – your craving will probably be as unique as your pregnancy.
Reasons for Food Cravings in Pregnancy
One partial explanation for pregnancy cravings is that your body is growing another person. You simply need more calories, and if you’re not getting enough, your body has powerful ways of getting you to eat more.
Some doctors believe that pregnancy cravings reflect a certain deficiency in your diet. But experts disagree on whether there is a real correlation. Sure, if you are craving beef, you may have an iron deficiency. But it’s hard to believe that a craving for triple-chocolate fudge cake means that your body is lacking some vitamin or mineral.
More plausibly, your hormones are just in overdrive, especially in the first trimester when most food cravings and aversions are the strongest. This can lead to experiencing desires more intensely, whether it means an overwhelming urge to eat grilled cheese or a virulent aversion to any strong-smelling foods. Either way, pregnancy cravings and aversions may serve a protective purpose for your body to help ensure that you eat more for your growing fetus and to keep you from eating foods that may be harmful.
Managing Pregnancy Cravings
So, given that you’re eating for two anyway, shouldn’t it be OK to give in to your pregnancy cravings? Well, yes and no. To manage your pregnancy cravings, you should make sure that those foods you choose to eat fit in with your overall plan for a healthy pregnancy diet. If you feel like you need fruit, go ahead and indulge. If you feel like you need chocolate, try to moderate your cravings with a glass of low-fat chocolate milk. If you are dying for French fries, make sure you have your fill of a nutritious lunch, and then allow yourself a small handful. But if you are driven to distraction thinking about something that clearly isn’t going to deliver any nutrition at all – say, candy bars – find another way to make yourself feel good. Take a short walk or a swim (if your doctor approves), call a friend, or eat some sweet fruit.
While some pregnancy cravings are simply unusual, others can be dangerous. If you find yourself craving non-food substances like dirt or chalk, it could be a sign of a disease called pica, which could indicate an iron deficiency. As always, make sure you tell your doctor immediately if you have any of these or other strange symptoms. But beyond that, enjoy all of the new and unusual sensations that being pregnant can bring to your body. Even if it only lasts for a week, your sudden craving for sardines and chow mein noodles will make a great story for years to come.