Why do women have food cravings during pregnancy?

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In the United States about half of all pregnant women have food cravings during pregnancy. And the age-old question I hear from my patients is: What’s causing them?

While we still don’t know exactly what causes food cravings during pregnancy, one theory is that pregnant women’s cravings are meant to get the body what it needs, especially if you’re lacking in a certain area of nutrition. Balanced nutrition is very important all the time, but it’s especially important for maintaining good health for both mom and baby during pregnancy.

Whether you crave pickles and ice cream or fast food, food cravings during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester, are something that are quite unique to each individual mom-to-be. One of the reasons may be that hormonal changes in estrogen and progesterone levels early on can influence both the taste buds and sense of smell in pregnant women. At the same time, moms who experience morning sickness from hormonal surges may develop total aversions to certain foods.

Depending on the physical health of the mother, certain food cravings during pregnancy could imply deficiencies in important nutrients like calcium, iron or protein. That’s where those strange food combinations come from when you suddenly can’t fight the urge for  string cheese and strawberries.

But (you’re going to hate me for this one) – you need to snap out of it. I promise, it’s for the best.

I always let my patients get away with it for a little bit, but if you don’t pay close attention to what you’re eating, and poor food choices become habitual throughout your pregnancy, you could be putting yourself in danger. Remember, a healthy woman only needs to take in an excess of 300 calories a day to support her pregnancy. Taking in too many calories can lead to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes and preeclampsia – which can all complicate your pregnancy and delivery – and even cause long-term issues for both you and your baby.

So the bottom line is: Okay, indulge in your cravings every once in a while, but don’t make it a habit. Realize that these strange desires will subside, and both your body — and your baby — will thank you for it.