Food cravings and aversions are normal parts of pregnancy. But do they mean anything? See what one nurse practitioner has to say.

Women's Health | 5 years ago

What Your Pregnancy Food Cravings Really Mean

Food cravings and aversions are normal parts of pregnancy. But do they mean anything? See what one nurse practitioner has to say.

Editor’s Note: This is a shortened version of an article featured in Atrium Health’s “Your Guide to Pregnancy & Motherhood.” To read more, get your free copy of the guide!

From pickles to chocolate to crunchy, cheesy snacks, you might crave a whole variety of foods during pregnancy. On the other hand, you might find yourself completely grossed out by your favorite foods – and even the thought of your go-to snacks might be enough to make you gag. So what gives?

We can only guess what causes food cravings and aversions during pregnancy, but most bets are on hormones. “There’s a number of theories about food cravings and aversions – and many are hormone-based,” says Natalie Little, FNP, MSN , a nurse practitioner at Atrium Health NorthEast Women’s Health & Obstetrics - Concord .

One thing is certain: Pregnancy cravings and aversions can be overwhelming. But what do they mean – and how can you manage them?

Is Your Baby Telling You Something?

From your baby’s sex to what foods they’ll like and dislike after they’re born, there are a lot of myths behind pregnancy cravings and aversions. But that’s just what they are: myths. “There’s no correlation,” says Little. “But women will report that their infant likes or dislikes foods, which coincidentally might have been what they craved – or couldn’t stand – during pregnancy.”

One theory suggests that cravings could be your body telling you it’s missing nutrients. For instance, if a pregnant woman is craving ice cream, what her body might actually need is calcium. But this type of thinking is only a hypothesis, says Little, with no clinical data to support it.

Although there’s no clear reason why they occur, rest assured: That middle-of-the-night craving for fries with ice cream might be overpowering – but it’s also very normal. “There’s no strange craving,” says Little. “Every pregnancy is unique, and everyone is unique in what they might crave.”

Salty, sweet, spicy, sour – these are the most commonly craved flavors. But less commonly, women might crave non-food items, like dirt, chalk and ice. Talk to your doctor if you have these kinds of cravings. This is a condition called pica and could be a sign of anemia, or low iron counts.

Treat Yourself – In Moderation

Not all pregnant women crave fruits and veggies – especially when salty snacks and sour candies are so tasty and accessible. But maintaining a balanced, nutrient-rich diet is critical, especially during pregnancy. In addition to feeding your body and baby the nutrients they both need, a healthy diet will also help you avoid the risk of gaining too much weight, too quickly.

Maintaining a healthy weight during pregnancy can help prevent certain complications, including preeclampsia, gestational hypertension, gestational diabetes and issues with labor and delivery.

When it comes to managing your cravings for junk food, try to choose healthy alternatives, like fresh fruit, light cheese and yogurt. “It’s okay to splurge or indulge, but moderation is key,” says Little. “Take your prenatal vitamins, drink plenty of water, and limit your intake of sugary drinks and foods.”

All in all, cravings and aversions are completely normal pregnancy symptoms. But do your best to focus on healthy foods, like fruits and veggies. They might not always sound the best, but they’ll be the best for you and your baby.

Like this article? Want to see more like it? Get a free copy of Atrium Health’s “Your Guide to Pregnancy & Motherhood” !