Pregnant woman having pregnancy cravings - eating a healthy meal - BabyHeart Australia

If you’ve recently found out that you’ve got a baby on the way, one of the first questions that might pop into your mind might be, “When do pregnancy cravings start?” and that’s a very common question! 

Today, we’re going to break down all things pregnancy cravings - including when they happen, why your body makes you have cravings, what they mean and how to handle them.

When do pregnancy cravings start?

A pregnancy craving is when you start wanting a specific food or even a specific smell. Not every person gets cravings either, so whether you have pregnancy cravings or not can be completely normal!

The sensation of extreme hunger can begin at any point during pregnancy and may not go away.

But the specific cravings, especially the stranger ones, usually start at the end of the third trimester or the beginning of the second one.

Around halfway through your pregnancy is when your cravings will likely be at their most intense, and generally, they will fade away from there.

Sometimes your cravings will not completely go away, though.

Why do I get pregnancy cravings? 

From the weird and wonderful to the mundane, pregnancy food cravings are a common experience! But what causes this? 

Pregnancy cravings can be caused by a number of things, including hormones, an increased sense of smell and taste, and nutritional deficiencies that your body is trying to resolve (for instance, craving bananas can be a sign that you're low in potassium). 

What sort of pregnancy cravings are most common? 

For most women, pregnancy food cravings fall into just a few categories: sweet, spicy, salty, or occasionally sour. And surveys show that whilst a mere 10% of pregnant women crave fruits and veggies during pregnancy, over 50% of pregnant women will find themselves craving foods high in salt and fat, and 30% will find themselves craving strange combinations of foods that they wouldn't normally eat otherwise. 

Some of the most common pregnancy cravings, and what they  could mean, include:

Pickles: One of the most common pregnancy cravings! If you find yourself reaching for the pickle jar, it may be because you have low sodium levels. Pickles are low in calories and are an inexpensive snack to keep on hand, so they're not too much of an issue if you find yourself snacking on them often.

Chocolate: Chocolate contains a naturally occurring chemical called tryptophan, which produces serotonin in your brain - so you might find yourself reaching for chocolate if your pregnancy mood swings have you feeling low or depressed. Chocolate is usually high in fat and calories and isn’t the best choice when consumed in large doses, though, so you might wish to try adding some chocolate chips to your breakfast yoghurt to curb the craving. 

Red Meat: Red meats like beef are rich in iron and protein, and are common pregnancy cravings in women who are experiencing iron or protein deficiencies. When satisfying your craving for red meat, try to choose leaner cuts to also balance heart health.

Spicy food and curries: Spicy foods will make your body sweat, which will naturally bring down your body’s temperature - which is why many pregnant women find themselves craving a curry, even though their hormones are sending their body temperature through the roof! 

Ice cream: Ice cream and yogurt are go-to cravings for many pregnant women, which can be due to a calcium deficiency (or just loving ice cream). Too much ice cream generally isn't a good idea, so you might like to try to ward off these cravings with calcium supplements and calcium-rich food options like cheese and milk. If you can’t shake your craving for ice cream, try non-fat frozen yogurt with fresh fruit instead.

Strange food combinations: Pickles and ice cream, anyone? Eyebrow-raising food combinations are common for most women, but as long as the food choices are healthy, go for it! The cravings will only last for a short time.

What are the signs of a pregnancy craving? 

A pregnancy craving is much like a regular food craving - sometimes triggered by a stimulus (like seeing an ad for a Big Mac and suddenly being consumed by the desire to have one) and sometimes seemingly out of nowhere. 

However, pregnant women often describe the differentiating factor between pregnancy cravings and regular food cravings as the intensity, with pregnancy cravings being reported as having a much more sudden onset and sense of urgency. 

Healthy meals during pregnancy - BabyHeart Australia

How do I beat pregnancy cravings? 

One of the best ways to ward off pregnancy cravings is to make sure you have well-balanced meals throughout the day.

Eat breakfast, get regular physical activity, and have plenty of emotional support, as this will help stop you from feeling bored and depressed and emotionally eating.

Experiencing cravings because you are hungry isn't uncommon. You might also confuse a persistent hunger for temporary cravings, and then ignore them or snack in all the wrong ways.

Dividing up your day's typical three meals into five or six can help you prevent hunger, reduce cravings and eat a variety of healthy foods.

This strategy is especially good for women who have difficulty eating large portions or prefer to eat smaller meals during the day, as frequent small meals may be easier on your sensitive stomach.

They may also keep the hunger pangs at bay longer.

If pregnancy cravings hit you hard, try to distract yourself if you don't want to indulge the craving.

You might like to go for a walk, play a game or visit a friend... and if that’s just not working, you can help satisfy cravings by paying attention to what your body is telling you, and finding a healthy alternative. 

Caving into a pregnancy craving as a short term fix isn't the end of the world. If you still find yourself hankering for ice cream, have a little.

Healthy alternatives are key, because if you’re eating high-calorie foods a lot, whilst not expending enough energy to work off the calories, your weight could balloon more than you'd like (and more than the healthy range for you and your baby).

So treat this time like any other time in your life - exercise moderation and consider the greater impact on your health. 

Our 7 top tips for curbing pregnancy cravings: 

1. Eat more fruit and veg 

Say yes to fresh fruits and veg, even if you're not craving them, to try and fill any nutritional gaps. This will make your body less likely to tell you that you need 12 donuts! Always start the day with a healthy breakfast to keep your blood sugar in check. Breakfasts with low-GI carbs and high protein will help you keep full for longer.

2. Drink plenty of water 

Try having a glass of water and seeing if the craving passes. Sometimes, after a few minutes and a distraction, your body will completely forget about the craving. 

3. Prepare healthy snacks

Prepare healthy snacks in advance, so when you're feeling the urge to grab for a low-nutrient option, you've got a healthy alternative on hand. 

4. Make sure to get plenty of sleep

Sleep helps regulate your body's hormones, and broken sleep can lead to an increase of the hormone ghrelin, which increases appetite. The more tired you are, the more likely you are to find yourself snacking. 

5. Exercise may also reduce food cravings 

Running has been linked to reduced levels of appetite-stimulating hormone and increased levels of an appetite-suppressing hormone in nonpregnant individuals. Of course, remember to exercise within the appropriate limits for your pregnancy, and run any exercise plans past your healthcare team to ensure you’re keeping yourself and your baby safe. 

6. Avoid skipping meals and snacks or skipping major food groups

This can help you feel satisfied and prevent further overwhelming food cravings. You might also like to try eating protein at every meal. Protein is the building block of all cells, so it’s beneficial mothers-to-be eat enough protein throughout the day for the baby's proper growth. Plus, protein can kick cravings to the curb, too. 

7. Be gentle with yourself

Many women may feel pressured to control their cravings without giving in, and others might feel guilty if they give in to their cravings. Be kind to yourself, practice mindfulness and remember that moderation is key.

Want more tips on pregnancy and beyond?

Join the BabyHeart Australia VIP Support Group on Facebook! It's filled with new parents around Australia, all sharing the journey together. We'd love to see you there. 

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