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Home > Learn > Pregnancy > >When Do Pregnancy Cravings Start and What Causes Them?

When Do Pregnancy Cravings Start and What Causes Them?

Jun 12, 23 8 min

By OBGYN Dr. Kenosha Gleaton

Food cravings are a common symptom often experienced during menstruation and pregnancy. Cravings are more commonly seen in women than men and are experienced by up to 90% of people during pregnancy. [1] Pregnancy cravings can vary from person to person and are often accompanied by food aversions, nausea, morning sickness, and other pregnancy symptoms. [2] 

What are Pregnancy Cravings?

It’s normal to experience different food cravings, especially during pregnancy. [2] These cravings are always rumored to be “weird” combinations of food (think pickles and peanut butter). While it’s true that some people may crave out-of-the-box snacks, a food craving is the intense desire for any type of food. This could include fruit, chips, tacos, you name it. Having a craving is usually an impulse to eat a specific meal or food, rather than feeling generally hungry; although many do experience an increased appetite during pregnancy, so the two may go hand in hand. [2] 

What are the Most Common Pregnancy Cravings?

Cravings can vary from person to person, and can sometimes contain some unique combinations. A few of the most common pregnancy cravings seem to include [1]:

Does Craving Sweets During Pregnancy Mean a Boy or Girl?

A popular old wives’ tale suggests that certain cravings may indicate the sex of your baby. Many have been told that craving sweets means you’re having a girl, whereas craving salty foods means you’re having a boy. Research doesn’t show a strong correlation between any common pregnancy cravings and gender, so this is considered to be myth. [3] 

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When do Cravings Start During Pregnancy?

There isn’t an exact science to when food cravings may appear, but appetite changes are often seen during the first trimester of pregnancy. [2] This can include food cravings, aversions, morning sickness, etc. Cravings and aversions are both likely to appear early on in pregnancy, may become even stronger during the second trimester, and often only last for a few weeks to a few months, rarely lasting until after delivery. [1]  Read more about Food Aversions During Pregnancy → 

What Causes Pregnancy Cravings?

There are many different theories as to what exactly causes food cravings or aversions during pregnancy. Currently, research is focused on measuring the relationship between pregnancy cravings and hormonal, cultural, and psychological factors. [1]  

Hormonal Changes

Changing hormone levels tends to be the cause of a lot of different symptoms during and outside of pregnancy. Many experts believe that changing hormone levels during early pregnancy are responsible for morning sickness, food aversions, and potentially food cravings. [1,4] There is a rise in a few different hormones during the first few weeks of pregnancy, including estrogen, progesterone, and chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). The rise in these hormones is often correlated to the onset of early pregnancy symptoms, including cravings. [1,4] 

Hormonal changes are also responsible for altering our senses, including taste and smell, which may lead to changes in specific food preferences or consumption. [1] 

Nutritional Deficits 

Are cravings a sign of a nutritional deficiency? Research is mixed on this topic for both pregnant and nonpregnant people. We know that nutritional demands are much higher during pregnancy to support healthy fetal development, which is why taking a prenatal vitamin every day is highly recommended. [5] There are also iron rich foods for pregnancy that may help balance nutrient intake. However, the foods often craved during pregnancy aren’t always the most nutrient dense options. While some data does suggest that certain cravings (including nonfood items) are associated with low levels of proper vitamins and minerals, other studies seem to show no correlation. [6-8] The bottom line is that there isn’t enough information at this time to prove a relationship between cravings and nutritional deficits. [1] If you’re concerned about your nutrition or have the desire to eat things that are very unusual, such as non edible items, you should speak to a healthcare provider. 

Just because you have a hankering for some junk food or your mother-in-law’s casserole doesn’t mean you have a nutrient deficiency or any reason to worry— in fact, one study found that experiencing pregnancy cravings may actually be a sign of a healthy pregnancy and normal delivery. [3] If you are concerned about your pregnancy cravings or your prenatal nutrition, speak to your healthcare provider. 

Are Cravings and Aversions Connected?

Pregnancy food aversions are the flip side of the coin. Some smells, textures, or tastes may seem disgusting to you even if you’ve enjoyed them before. Aversions are often seen during the first few months of pregnancy, similarly to pregnancy cravings. [2] Any food may cause someone to have an averse reaction, but the most common foods are typically fragrant or have distinct textures. A few common food aversions include eggs, dairy products, spicy foods, meat, seafood, and onions. [9]

So how are food cravings and food aversions related? We’re not exactly sure if they’re related, but the causes may be similar. The change in pregnancy hormones can result in a number of different symptoms, including changes in someone’s appetite and senses. [4] Many people report having a change in their smell or taste during pregnancy, which may lead to an increased desire or repulsion towards various foods. 

When to be Concerned About Pregnancy Aversions or Cravings?

It’s normal to experience food aversions or cravings, but you should always speak to your healthcare provider if you are concerned about any of your symptoms. Pregnancy symptoms should not be interfering with your daily activities or routine. If you notice that you’re experiencing weight gain or loss, unable to keep foods or liquids down, or if you’re experiencing cravings for non-food items (like paper, soap, rocks, etc) you should speak to a professional. Some medications and supplements may help reduce morning sickness or food aversions, such as ginger, vitamin B6, and some other prescription or over the counter medications. Consider trying our effective and convenient option of ginger and vitamin B6 gummies for nausea to ease your morning sickness symptoms during this special time. [10] There are also options for foods that fight nausea during pregnancy. Just keep in mind that you should have a healthcare provider’s approval before trying any new supplements or medications during pregnancy. 

 

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Supporting Prenatal Nutrition

Eating clean, balanced meals is always encouraged, but we know that pregnancy cravings don’t always fall into the “healthy” food category. This is why taking a prenatal multivitamin is recommended. [5] Even if you have days where all you can stomach is fries, ice cream, or pizza, taking a multivitamin is going to help you meet your daily recommended amount of nutrients. You should try to sneak in all of the important food groups every day: vegetables, fruit, grains, protein, and dairy. [5] Don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t eating as healthy as you want to be— growing a human takes a lot of work and you deserve to occasionally satisfy those cravings and eat what you enjoy!  Just be sure to stay hydrated, take your vitamins, and do your best to get in healthy foods when you can. 

Learn about what foods to avoid during pregnancy in our guide.

Takeaways

  • Pregnancy food cravings are experienced by up to 90% of people 
  • While general appetite may also increase during pregnancy, a craving is an intense desire for a certain food or meal. 
  • Some of the most common pregnancy cravings include chocolate, pizza, chips, dairy products, and fruit.
  • Cravings can start at any time during pregnancy but are often seen in the first and second trimester.
  • There are a few theories about what causes cravings, including hormonal changes, nutritional deficits, and other biological factors. 
  • So far researchers haven’t been able to pinpoint one specific cause, but data does support many theories. 
  • Most pregnancy cravings are normal and harmless, but if you start to crave nonfood items such as paper, rocks, soap, etc., you’re worried about your nutrition, or you have any other questions about your diet, you should speak to a healthcare provider. 
  • Taking a prenatal multivitamin is a great way to support your nutritional needs during pregnancy.

 


Dr. Kenosha Gleaton is board-certified in gynecology and obstetrics and is the Medical Advisor of Natalist. She received her MD from MUSC and completed her residency at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, NC.

Dr. Gleaton is passionate about women, youth, and mentoring. She is a Scrubs Camp instructor, a program to increase student entry in healthcare, and serves as a Compassion International adoptive parent. She is also a member of the American College of Obstetrics & Gynecology, the American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopists, and the American Association of Professional Women.  


References:

  1. Orloff NC, Hormes JM. Pickles and ice cream! Food cravings in pregnancy: hypotheses, preliminary evidence, and directions for future research. Front Psychol. 2014;5:1076. Published 2014 Sep 23. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01076
  2. Changes During Pregnancy. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. PFSI026. May 2023. URL
  3. Al-Mehaisen LM, Al-Husban NA, Matalka AI, Al-Kuran OA. Is there a relationship between children's behaviour and food cravings during pregnancy?. J Taibah Univ Med Sci. 2018;13(6):547-551. Published 2018 Oct 30. doi:10.1016/j.jtumed.2018.09.004
  4. Bayley TM, Dye L, Jones S, DeBono M, Hill AJ. Food cravings and aversions during pregnancy: relationships with nausea and vomiting. Appetite. 2002;38(1):45-51. doi:10.1006/appe.2002.0470
  5. Nutrition During Pregnancy. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. FAQ001. May 2023. URL
  6. Morris MJ, Na ES, Johnson AK. Salt craving: the psychobiology of pathogenic sodium intake. Physiol Behav. 2008;94(5):709-721. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2008.04.008
  7. Uchida T, Kawati Y. Rinsho Ketsueki. 2014;55(4):436-439.
  8. Young SL. Pica in pregnancy: new ideas about an old condition. Annu Rev Nutr. 2010;30:403-422. doi:10.1146/annurev.nutr.012809.104713
  9. Yalew A, Tekle Silasie W, Anato A, Fikrie A. Food aversion during pregnancy and its association with nutritional status of pregnant women in Boricha Woreda, Sidama Regional State, Southern Ethiopia, 2019. A community based mixed crossectional study design. Reprod Health. 2021;18(1):208. Published 2021 Oct 18. doi:10.1186/s12978-021-01258-w
  10. Ebrahimi N, Maltepe C, Einarson A. Optimal management of nausea and vomiting of pregnancy. Int J Womens Health. 2010;2:241-248. Published 2010 Aug 4. doi:10.2147/ijwh.s6794

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