Powerful food cravings are just one of the many unusual things that women will encounter when pregnant. And while many women will experience them, there is an ongoing debate as to what they mean and what to do about them. Here is some helpful information that the mother-to-be can use to help combat the crazy cravings associated with pregnancy.
Why Do These Cravings Happen During Pregnancy?
Many women might wonder why it is that their cravings seem to go into overdrive while pregnant. It's true that many women who aren't pregnant also experience food cravings, but pregnancy can drive cravings over the top. Are hormones to blame or is it something else?
Hormones are partially to blame for the spike in food cravings that many pregnant women experience. The spike in some hormones can cause different food cravings as well as food aversions. For example, women who experience more stress during their pregnancy from things like jobs and relationships may find themselves craving "comfort food" like chocolate chip cookies or cheeseburgers, according to a study from the University of California, San Francisco, although these cravings are not specifically limited to pregnancy. The study suggests that these foods reduce the production of stress hormones, but caution that indulging them is not the only way to reduce these hormones. Exercise and sex will have the same effect.
The hormones associated with pregnancy, estrogen and progesterone, also play a role in cravings and food aversions, though how it does is not well understood. The same food cravings and aversions are also seen in women during their menstrual cycle and in women after they reach menopause, though with less intensity than is seen in pregnancy.
What Do The Cravings Mean?
In generations past, medical practitioners used to believe that certain food cravings signified the body's need for certain nutrients. And while it may be true in some cases, the majority of what women crave when pregnant are foods that have little nutritional value.
The vast majority of women crave sweets like chocolate or ice cream when pregnant, foods that don't provide much nutrition to a growing fetus. Next comes salty foods, then spicy, and finally sour foods. In previous eras, when much of the food that people consumed was raised on their own farms or purchased fresh from the local butcher or dairy, people would satisfy their cravings with nutrient dense foods. However, in the age of processed and packaged food that we live in today, this isn't the case leading researchers to believe that food cravings really don't mean much.
There are those who still believe that food cravings and food aversions have meaning, however. Some in alternative healing circles believe that a craving for chocolate could signify that the mother is deficient in magnesium, which is found in chocolate. It is also found in whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and green leafy vegetables. A craving for red meat may indeed be a need for more protein. Likewise, food aversions may be triggered by a biological need to avoid a certain food or drink, such as caffeine or alcohol.
What Can You Do About Them?
When cravings become bothersome, some pregnant women may wonder what to do about them. Indulging cravings is fine, unless someone suffers from a condition called pica, which we'll discuss shortly. The thing to keep in mind when indulging cravings is to practice moderation. Excess indulgence leads to excess weight gain and this can cause problems for both the mother and her unborn baby.
Some natural healing practitioners say that cravings are a sign that the body is deficient in essential fatty acids and report that their patients experience a significant drop in cravings after they’ve being using flax or fish oil supplements. The evidence, while it is compelling, is still anecdotal as studies have not confirmed this evidence.
Urban Myths About Pregnancy
There are some fun, albeit baseless, urban myths surrounding pregnancy cravings, including;
- All pregnant women crave pickles and ice cream- In fact, cravings can vary greatly from woman to woman and women's cravings can vary from week to week or even day to day. One survey showed that 40 percent of women crave sweets, 33 percent crave salty foods, 17 percent crave spicy foods and 10 percent crave sour foods.
- If a woman craves sweets, she is going to have a girl. If she craves salty foods, she will have a boy- The truth is that cravings vary widely and it isn't uncommon for a woman to crave sweets one week and salty foods the next. This doesn't mean she is having twins, she is simply experiencing fluctuations in her body that cause her to crave different things.
- If mom refuses to eat the heel of a loaf of bread, she is having a girl. If she likes the heel, then she is having a boy- There is no basis in this at all, merely personal preference.
Some women experience a condition called Pica (pronounced pie-kah) during their pregnancy. This is an eating disorder that affects mostly women and children and causes them to crave non-food items, such as ice, plaster, cigarette butts and other harmful items.
The condition has been linked to dietary deficiencies, though there are many factors that cause a woman to develop the condition. If a woman suspects that she has pica she should inform her doctor immediately as consuming non-food items can be deadly and often once the dietary deficiencies are corrected the cravings decrease significantly.
Pregnancy cravings are usually nothing at all for an expectant mom to worry about. If she is troubled by her cravings she should speak to her doctor, who can advise her as to some methods she can use to manage her cravings.