What are pregnancy cravings?
We all know that proper nutrition is important during pregnancy, but sometimes cravings can make healthy eating challenging. During your pregnancy, appetites can be all over the place, and you might find that you have sudden, stronger food cravings. From one day to the next you may find yourself interested in odd combinations of flavors and textures—maybe never even the same thing twice. In fact, pregnancy cravings are one of the earliest and most common early pregnancy symptoms.
It’s generally thought that you can blame your weird cravings on the hormones surging through the body throughout pregnancy. Researchers aren’t totally sure what causes pregnancy cravings, but hormones, your body’s need to quickly ramp up blood production and the desire for comfort foods may all play a role.
When do pregnancy cravings start?
Pregnancy cravings will start in your first trimester and peak during your second, then peter out throughout your third. If you don’t experience pregnancy cravings—weird or otherwise—that’s OK, too. Since everybody is unique, you may not experience them at all, or they may start later than the first trimester.
5 ways to manage pregnancy cravings
Although it’s great when your pregnancy cravings are for healthy foods, it’s not so great when you crave the unhealthy stuff consistently. It’s important to remember that cravings are a totally normal part of pregnancy, and it’s absolutely okay to give in to them, as long as your overall diet is healthy. A little bit of chocolate never hurt anybody!
Here are some helpful ways to manage pregnancy cravings if you or your doctor become concerned about them.
1. Tap into the power of breakfast
It’s easier to avoid the mid-morning pregnancy cravings when you’ve had a healthy balanced breakfast. If you’re feeling a lot of morning sickness or an aversion to breakfast foods and it’s making the first meal of the day difficult, remember that any food can be breakfast food if you eat it as your first meal of the day! Try out leftovers, easy-to-digest soups, or even simple foods like toast. You can also consider employing this food trick often used on picky eaters: hide nutrient-dense foods in a healthy smoothie or yummy zucchini bread.
2. Make it a true treat—with a dash of healthy
So, you’ve got your mind set on that ice cream sundae—go for it! Why not include a banana or some heart-healthy walnuts? Or is a burger more up your craving alley? No problem! Add a side salad to help fill up on nutritional calories as well. Go ahead, have a doughnut or a sliver of that double-chocolate cake as a treat every now and then, but try not to make it a constant habit. Instead, make it feel like a treat that you fully enjoy instead of an everyday staple after each meal.
3. Try to make healthy swaps
If you’re craving something sweet, indulge in some fruit dipped in dark chocolate. Looking for a crunchy snack? Kale chips can replace potato chips and be just as tasty. Or, baked brown rice crackers with hummus are a good fiber-rich option. At meals, you can swap out unhealthy choices for more nutrient-rich options, such as baked oatmeal instead of danishes, or a tortellini broccoli salad instead of a giant plate of spaghetti. If that spaghetti is really calling your name though, swap white pasta for whole wheat, and add (or blend) some veggies into the pasta sauce. And voila! You’ve made easy food swaps to ensure that you and your little one are getting the good stuff you both need.
4. Practice portion control with snacks
A small slice of cheesecake or a single cookie can satisfy your food cravings during pregnancy while keeping you in control as well. One way to avoid the call of junk food is if you plan your snacks ahead of time. It’s smart to keep cheese, nuts, low-sugar granola bars, fruits and vegetables prepped and ready to take on the go. That way you won’t be as tempted by quick, less-than-nutritious fixes when you’re out and about.
5. Practice intuitive eating
Trying to avoid what you’re craving can lead to eating a bunch of other things you didn’t want in the first place. Give yourself permission to eat the food you really want, but do so in a thoughtful and controlled manner. Try to sit for every meal and snack instead of noshing as you rush around. Be mindful with how every bite smells, tastes and feels in your mouth. As a bonus, eating slowly reduces the likelihood of swallowing air and decreases the likelihood of unnecessary burps or gas. Eating mindfully ensures that you can satisfy your taste buds without feeling the guilt. Likewise, be patient with yourself when you’re feeling tired. Give yourself a pass on cooking elaborate meals and drop the guilt about not eating as healthfully as you had planned. If possible, hang up the apron and try to rely on partners or loved ones to cook and prep meals while you take some much-needed rest—you deserve it!
Can prenatal supplements help with pregnancy food cravings?
While food cravings during pregnancy are common, the thought of not getting your fill of lean proteins, filling fiber and vitamin-packed veggies might lead you to worry that you and your baby aren’t getting enough essential nutrients.
A simple way to help ease worries about less-than-nutritious pregnancy cravings and proper nutrient intake is to make sure you’re taking your prenatal supplement every day. This way, you know that even if your favorite healthy foods are taking a backseat for a few weeks, you’re making sure you get your daily intake of important prenatal nutrients like iron (to support brain development) and folic acid (to help form baby's neural tube).
Embrace the changes in your cravings and body
One important thing that’s easy to forget in this day and age is that food is fuel, and ultimately, you know your body best. Having cravings for unhealthy foods and having your body change during pregnancy is nothing to feel ashamed about, and depending on your outlook, can be a beautiful thing.
Psychologically, it can be rough terrain to maneuver such quick changes to your body shape and what you want to eat. And it’s hard to predict; you may have been the healthiest eater in the world but now all you crave is pizza and candy! Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to have conflicting feelings about these intense cravings and rapid changes to your physique, but it can be helpful to reach out to a loved one that you know will be supportive and hear out your worries.
Ultimately, rest assured that the only thing you have to worry about is to eat as well as you can and keep in touch with your doctor on your eating habits. If your doctor isn’t worried, then there’s no need for you to be worried.
Pickles and ice cream, candy, burgers or juicy steaks might be at the top of your pregnancy cravings list. It’s best to embrace the changes to your food desires as they happen, try to stay in front of the craving spirals, and know you’ll be back to your old self soon enough. Still curious about pregnancy nutrition and foods? Check out some foods to avoid while pregnant.