Let's see - I had a mini Hershey's bar tucked inside each of my three bean tacos with a side of pickles dipped in peanut butter. That's a normal breakfast, right? It was for me when I was pregnant with my second child. During that gestational period it was all about unusual food combinations, the stranger the better. During my first pregnancy I craved meat, I couldn't get enough of it. And this is from a woman who had been a strict vegetarian for almost 20 years. What is it about pregnancy that makes (relatively) sane women eat like a crazy person? What is the connection between pregnancy and bizarre eating patterns?
There are many theories that abound: your body craves nutrients your baby needs; your hormones are all out of whack and are preventing you from regulating your eating habits; or perhaps it's your body's way of protecting the baby. Bottom line, no one knows definitively why pregnant women have food cravings, but we do know that it's not a myth and that most pregnant women do experience some sort of change in their taste preferences: it's perfectly normal.
Unfortunately, though, taste changes that result as a genuine biological or physiological need can also lead to excessive weight gain, which in turn can cause gestational diabetes and/or high blood pressure. So, while it's ok to indulge a craving, do so in moderation. As my midwife told me, "if eating 10 hot dogs a day wasn't a good idea before you got pregnant, why would you think it's a good idea now?" Use common sense and make smart food choices. There are always healthy alternatives to any craving, for example:
- Instead of ice cream, go for non-fat frozen yoghurt. It will satisfy that need for something cool and creamy.
- Instead of sweets, reach for dried fruits such as apricots, or fresh tropical fruit such as mango or pineapple.
- Instead of salty, fat-laden crisps, opt for popcorn sprinkled with a low-sodium seasoning.
- Instead of chocolate... well, there really is no substitute for chocolate in my book. If you want to feel better about your chocolate consumption, then go for high quality dark chocolate to take advantage of all those yummy antioxidants.
If you find yourself craving non-foods such as dirt, clay or chalk you may have a condition called Pica and should consult with your doctor. Other common cravings among women with Pica include coffee grounds, plaster, toothpaste or paint chips. Do not give in to these cravings! These are potentially toxic to you and your baby. If this is what you're craving, call your medical provider now.
By and large though, pregnancy cravings are a completely normal part of pregnancy. They are harmless and sometimes even amusing. You can manage them through careful attention to your diet and by allowing yourself the occasional indulgence. Your body is working hard, 24/7 growing another living being, so go ahead and eat that chocolate covered carrot. I won't tell.