The first-trimester surprise: Pregnancy cravings can strike earlier than you think

Welcome to the world of pregnancy cravings.
Written by
Lucinda Starr
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Last updated on
June 3, 2024
min read
When Do Cravings in Pregnancy Start? | Kin Fertility
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Do you find yourself increasingly craving salty snacks, sweets and even ice cubes? Maybe you've developed an aversion to your favourite foods that now you can't even stand to look at. If you relate to any of these, you're definitely not alone.

But, it's also perfectly normal to be stressed about the food cravings you might have during pregnancy. So, when do cravings in pregnancy start?

Well, pregnancy food cravings are super common and completely normal, starting in early pregnancy, peaking around the second trimester and subsiding by the third trimester.

If you're looking to better understand common pregnancy cravings (even the weird ones), then we've got all the answers on why cravings happen, the most common cravings and which foods are totally okay to indulge in and ones you should probably stay clear of.

What are pregnancy food cravings?

Do you feel yourself reaching for a jar of pickles and ice cream in the middle of the night? Or maybe you have a sudden urge to chew ice cubes. Welcome to the world of pregnancy cravings.

Food cravings during pregnancy are a normal part of being pregnant and many pregnant women feel sudden urges to eat certain foods or non-food items (which is a common condition called pica) [1]. There might be certain foods that you used to love before being pregnant that you start to hate throughout pregnancy.

On the other hand, there might be foods you hated before being pregnant that you start to develop cravings for during pregnancy. In fact, research suggests that 50-90% of women experience pregnancy cravings for specific foods during their pregnancy [2].

What causes pregnancy cravings?

Researchers and experts haven't yet fully understood why pregnancy cravings develop. But there are a few theories behind the sudden urge to reach for a bag of chips and salsa at 2am.

Hormonal changes

During pregnancy, there are a bunch of hormonal changes happening in the body, especially in the first trimester.

The hormonal changes throughout pregnancy influence the type of cravings experienced and change the sensory experience of certain foods. Your sense of taste, smell and mood all start to change, which impacts the types of food cravings you have.

Nutritional needs change

Another theory behind why pregnancy cravings start is that your nutritional needs change and your body is telling you what it needs. Many pregnant women start to have dairy cravings for milk, yoghurt (or ice cream) because there's an increased need for calcium or the urge to eat oranges for vitamin C [3].

The good news is there's no evidence to suggest the pregnancy cravings start because of a nutrient deficiency so there's no reason to feel guilty about cravings despite how weird pregnancy cravings may be [1].

If you're concerned about a possible nutrient deficiency during pregnancy, a phone call to your doctor to get the best advice is always a good option.

How early in pregnancy do you get cravings?

Everyone's pregnancy is different, so there isn't a specific timeline for when pregnancy cravings start. You might only experience the occasional food craving or a tonne of food cravings or none at all.

Pregnancy cravings can start at any point throughout pregnancy but they typically start in the first trimester (as early as 5 weeks), peak in the second trimester and by the end of the third trimester, cravings tend to subside [4].

What do early pregnancy cravings feel like?

Pregnancy cravings come in various shapes and sizes, but many women start to feel intense compulsions and the urge to eat certain foods.

Cravings during pregnancy can range from fast food cravings to fruit cravings and even weird combinations of foods (like pickles and ice cream) but the urges can be so strong that your body has an intense physical need for them.

Sometimes pregnant women crave non-food items like toothpaste, laundry detergent and dirt and unsafe foods like raw meat. If you start to crave these, you might be experiencing a medical condition called pica where you want to eat typically inedible substances.

These items are unsafe to eat but they also might be an indication of a nutritional deficiency like an iron deficiency [5]. Some people believe that it's the body's way of trying to get vitamins and minerals that are lacking in the normal foods being consumed.

If you do experience cravings for non-food items or unsafe food items like raw animal protein, you should call your healthcare provider to get to the bottom of the issue.

If you get diagnosed with an iron deficiency during pregnancy (which affects 1 in 2 pregnant women), there are plenty of ways to get your iron levels back up.

Kin's Iron Support Supplements are designed to support you during conception, pregnancy and postpartum with a vegan formula to relieve tiredness, support healthy iron levels and help you maintain energy production.

Plus, we use a highly bioavailable form of iron that's gentler on the stomach and minimises nausea and constipation.

What are some of the most common pregnancy cravings?

Now that we know when pregnancy food cravings start and some common theories behind pregnancy cravings, let's run through some commonly craved foods that should make you feel a little bit better amount reaching for a jar of pickles or eating an entire cake.

Sweet cravings

Cravings for sweet foods are pretty common food cravings whether you're pregnant or not. But, sweet cravings are one of the most common pregnancy cravings, with one study showing sweet foods (especially chocolate) were the highest craving among pregnant women at 35% [6].

While it's perfectly fine to eat sugary foods occasionally during pregnancy, giving in sugar cravings too much can be unhealthy. Research has found an association between sugary foods and gestational diabetes and excessive weight gain throughout pregnancy can become a problem in the long term [7].

Spicy food cravings

Spicy foods are a super common pregnancy craving and can be caused by fluctuations in pregnancy hormones which can change your sense of smell and taste. The good news is there's no scientific evidence to suggest pregnant people need to cut out spicy foods throughout pregnancy [8].

If you do experience heartburn or stomach issues throughout pregnancy (which are common), then you might want to avoid eating spicy and hot foods as there is some evidence that points to spicy foods exacerbating the issue [9].

Carbohydrate cravings

Carbohydrate cravings are another common craving that many pregnant people experience. You might find yourself reaching for more foods like bread, cereal, pasta and potatoes [6].

If you do start craving super unhealthy foods, it's totally okay to eat these in moderation. But there are plenty of ways to choose healthy alternatives that contain more fibre, vitamins and nutrients, like swapping french fries for homemade sweet potato fries.

Fruit cravings

Fruit cravings during pregnancy are a good thing. Fruit is healthy and gives your body vitamins and minerals. Plus, vitamin C is super important for both pregnant people and their babies to help support a healthy immune system, boost antioxidant levels and even help with tissue repair and wound healing.

The recommended dose of vitamin C for pregnant people who are over 19 years old is 85 milligrams per day with an upper limit of 2000 per day [10].

Animal protein cravings

Cravings for animal protein like chicken, fish and steak are also normal and even common for people who are vegan and vegetarian. But sometimes they can indicate low iron (anaemia) which affects 20-80% of pregnant women [11].

It's also super important to avoid eating raw and undercooked meat, eggs, poultry and seafood during pregnancy as these foods can contain harmful bacteria, including salmonella and E.coli and can lead to illnesses like listeria and toxoplasmosis [1].

Cold foods

Cold food cravings during pregnancy are common and many women start to eat ice cubes, ice cream, frozen pizza and more.

Cravings for cold foods can develop because they satisfy your needs or certain cravings like ice cubes can develop as a result of food aversions as they don't have any flavour.

Dairy cravings

Cravings for dairy products like milk, cheese, cream and yoghurt are super common, especially considering pregnant and breastfeeding women aged between 19-50 need 1000mg of calcium a day [12].

But, you'll want to avoid any dairy products made with unpasteurised milk as there's a chance it can contain listeria bacteria which can cause an infection [13].

What happens if you ignore pregnancy cravings?

Ignoring pregnancy cravings is pretty safe, especially if you find yourself constantly reaching for foods like chocolate, fast food and cake and you have a food urge to eat substances like toothpaste and paint chips.

But, when it comes to food cravings for foods that contain lots of vitamins and minerals, these shouldn't be ignored.

For example, craving oranges is a good thing and you should be consuming citrus fruits that contain vitamin C. Plus, you should try to follow a balanced diet and eat plenty of healthy foods and healthy snacks.

Is it normal to not experience pregnancy cravings?

Just as it's normal to experience pregnancy cravings, it's also super normal to not experience food cravings. Not developing cravings during pregnancy doesn't indicate that anything is wrong.

If you are concerned about your diet, just remember that every pregnancy is unique and different and speaking to your doctor to get some advice is always to best option.

What are pregnancy food aversions?

Food aversions are a strong dislike for specific foods and can often be accompanied by unpleasant and strong physical symptoms when you smell or see certain foods. Oftentimes, food aversions don't have anything to do with the food itself but rather the emotions associated with the food [14].

And, just as the reason behind pregnancy cravings is unknown, the reason behind food aversions during pregnancy is also unclear. But, changes in pregnancy hormones can impact the foods you like and dislike, especially in the first trimester.

The hormone human gonadotropin (otherwise known as hCG) is a pregnancy hormone that can cause nausea, appetite changes and food aversions [15].

Plus, sensitivity to smell and how foods taste also increases throughout pregnancy, which can have an impact on food cravings and aversions causing you to avoid strong-smelling foods or increasing a specific food craving.

When can food aversions start in pregnancy?

Food aversions can start at any point of pregnancy and at any time of day. But, they tend to surge between weeks 6-14 of pregnancy. You can experience food aversions from nausea (a.k.a morning sickness) and if you have food aversions at the start of your pregnancy, they might subside later on.

Morning sickness is super common, affecting 1 in 5 women. But there are a bunch of remedies for nausea [16]. It's important to drink as much as you can manage (like ginger tea or clear soup) and try to eat a few dry crackers before you get out of bed in the morning.

Kin's Morning Sickness Tea is an all-natural remedy for nausea and morning sickness packed with organic ginger to relieve nausea symptoms, peppermint to aid digestion and relax stomach muscles and subtle aromatics like chamomile and lemongrass to ease stress.

If your morning sickness is stopping you from eating, you're experiencing vomiting or weight loss, or you're unable to keep food and fluids down, it's a good idea to call your doctor and get medical attention.

Pregnancy cravings are extremely common, especially in early pregnancy. While further research is needed to understand what causes common pregnancy cravings, the most commonly craved foods like chocolate, ice cream and pickles are perfectly normal.

But, it's also important to eat a balanced diet with foods that are packed with fibre, vitamins and minerals, where possible, to support a healthy pregnancy.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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