Pregnant women have strange food habits — they tend to crave foods that they may not have previously enjoyed and sometimes unsafe foods. Not surprisingly, there are many stories and myths around the world associated with these odd food cravings during pregnancy. The bizarre hankerings are very common among expecting women, resulting from hormonal fluctuations in their bodies during pregnancy. One such weird eating disorder commonly seen during pregnancy is pica (1).
Over-hyped or not, these unusual food cravings are fun to hear. If you are pregnant and wondering what causes weird eating patterns, the related risks, and how to manage them, here’s what you need to know:
What Leads To Unusual Food Cravings During Pregnancy?
Pregnant women experience mood swings and depression during pregnancy. They crave more foods in peculiar combinations that may cause extra weight gain and other complications. Compulsive craving for foods that lack any nutritional value is termed as pica. It is reported to be more common among women of American-Africa origin than other ethnicities (2).
The real reason that triggers pica remains unclear. However, some health experts believe that iron deficiency and food insecurity may be the possible causes (3). Emotion-induced food cravings also serve a psychosocial function, a coping strategy that women use to deal with social pressures of fulfilling cultural norms associated with motherhood (4).
When Do Women Experience Strange Food Cravings During Pregnancy?
Cravings in pregnancy begin with the onset of morning sickness, around the first trimester. These symptoms slowly increase and spike by the second semester. As the third semester progresses, such unusual food cravings typically decrease or go away (5).
What Weird Foods Do Pregnant Women Crave?
While ice cream and pickles are the most common cravings among pregnant women, the less common ones that women crave during pregnancy are non-food substances like dirt or chalk (6). Other pica cravings include clay, stones, ice, cornstarch, baking soda, toothpaste, soap, cigarette ashes, sand, burst matches, etc. Eating foods with little or no nutritional value can be harmful for the baby and the pregnant mother. Therefore, it’s important to bring it up with your doctor. These food cravings can also be accompanied by food aversions (7), (8).
What Are The Health Risks Associated With Pica In Pregnant Women?
Non-food items with toxic compounds may interfere with the absorption of healthy food items and cause severe deficiencies that affect the development of the fetus (9). Women indulging in pica expose their unborn children to greater risks of foodborne illnesses like Listeria and Toxoplasmosis (10). Pica during pregnancy is associated with two common health risks in babies: preterm birth and low birth weight (11). It can also result from the body’s need to comfort itself to counter and adjust to the additional stress it goes through during pregnancy. Therefore, practicing healthy eating habits is essential for you and your baby.
What Foods And Drinks Should You Avoid During Pregnancy?
Women can indulge in weird food cravings to satisfy the sudden rise in hunger. Hormonal fluctuations can alter a pregnant woman’s sense of smell, taste, or even the desire for strange flavors and textures that are far from conventional. As contaminated food or non-food item consumption can prove lethal for the newborn, here are foods that you should steer clear of during pregnancy (12), (13), (14):
- Raw eggs, meat, and poultry increase the risk of bacterial food poisoning.
- Raw or undercooked seafood may be contaminated with Listeria.
- Unpasteurized milk, soft cheese (blue, feta, brie), or fruit juices may contain harmful bacteria like E. coli and salmonella.
- Fish with high levels of mercury like swordfish, sharks, king mackerel are linked to developmental delays or brain damage.
- Alcohol can result in fetal alcohol syndrome causing deformities and intellectual disability.
- Processed junk foods rich in fat, sugar, and salt may impair muscle development in babies, affecting their ability to exercise and combat obesity.
- Raw sprouts, including alfalfa, radish, mung bean, increase the risks of exposure to harmful bacteria.
- Excessive tea/coffee hinders the absorption of essential nutrients.
How Can You Manage Weird Food Cravings During Pregnancy?
The best thing a mother can do during pregnancy is to eat well. As pregnancy puts greater nutritional demands on the mother’s body, a well-balanced diet is critical for her health and her baby’s well-being. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends eating an extra 340 calories per day in addition to your regular calorie intake from the second trimester onwards. The nutritional requirement will increase depending on whether a woman is carrying twins, triplets, or more (15). Speak to your doctor and chalk out a diet plan that’s suitable for you.
If you are experiencing weird eating tendencies, here are a few ways in which you can deal with it during pregnancy:
- It is important to know what triggers pica cravings so that they can be effectively managed. So, monitor your strange eating patterns and inform your doctor so that you can understand the specific risks associated with them.
- Keep unhealthy food options away from your reach. It’s best to avoid buying them altogether. Some healthy snacking options for pregnant women are fruits, dark chocolate, yogurt from pasteurized milk, fresh fruit juices, homemade pickles, and dry fruits.
- Eat recommended portions of healthy food frequently to stabilize blood sugar levels. It’s okay to indulge once in a while but practice moderation at all times.
- Drink water to keep your body hydrated during pregnancy. It will also keep you full and counter sudden urges for unhealthy foods.
- If mood influences your food habits, you might consider seeing a therapist as this could result from underlying mental health issues (16).
Pregnancy cravings are not a serious problem. Tracking your nutritional intake during pregnancy is vital. What matters is that the mother and baby are healthy, and their dietary needs are well met. However, you should seek medical advice when food cravings become uncontrollable or interfere with your health and well-being. Did you also experience weird food cravings during pregnancy? Do share with us your stories in the comments section below!