Abnormal Food Cravings, Aversions and Pica During Pregnancy

The physiologic changes in the pregnant body can give rise to many unusual food cravings. This is not considered abnormal as pregnancy cravings are known to be a part of most healthy pregnancies. Similarly some pregnant women may find an aversion to even common foods or foods that they previously enjoyed. This as well is not unsual or abnormal.  However, there are instances where a pregnant women may develop cravings for non-edible items and this could be an indication of pica.

Food Cravings during Pregnancy

Craving for a particular food is a common phenomenon during pregnancy. Most pregnant women go through these cravings. However, in some women this desire for a specific food item may become intense and uncontrollable. The desire or craving has to be satisfied almost immediately, irrespective of the time of day or location of the desired food.  It is not unsualy for this craving to be for a food that the mother may not have otherwise favored prior to pregnancy. Nevertheless, this is considered to be part of a normal and healthy pregnancy, more so for some women.

Why do women get food cravings during pregnancy?

There is no definitive answer as to why women experience food cravings during pregnancy. It is often attributed to the hormonal changes in the body during pregnancy which can have a wide range of effects. However, there is also the possibility that food cravings is a way of sourcing specific nutritents.

By craving for foods that are rich in certain vitamins and minerals, the mother’s body can prevent nutritional deficiencies while supplying sufficient nutrients for the baby’s growth and development. However, there may also be a psychological component as well as cultural factors that contributes to pregnancy cravings.

Read more on excessive vomiting during pregnancy.

What are the common types of food cravings?

There are no specific cravings among all or even most pregnant women. It can vary greatly among individuals and even by geographical region and culture. However, for most urban dwellers there are several common foods that appear to be appealing to many pregnant women at some point of time in the pregnancy, or not.  These foods include:

  • Sweet and baked goods like chocolate, chocolate cake, donuts.
  • Salty foods like pickles in brine (saltwater).
  • Spicy foods like hot chicken wings or chilli hot dogs.

Often these foods are deemed ‘unhealthy’ but consuming it in moderate amounts during pregnancy should not be a significant health problem. However, women with diabetes or high blood pressure during pregnancy need to be cautious. High carbohydrate consumption can cause spikes in the blood glucose levels while a high salt intake may contribute further to hypertension. Excessive pregnancy weight gain is another factor.

When do pregnancy cravings occur?

These cravings can occur any time during pregnancy and may remain throughout pregnancy. However, it is most common in the first trimester although there may be very specific cravings that can persist through the second trimester. There is no need to seek treatment for pregnancy cravings. It is advisable to have the necessary nutritional tests to verify whether deficiencies are present or not. Otherwise pregnancy cravings are not a cause for concern.

Does a balanced diet reduce pregnancy cravings?

As mentioned, the exact cause of food cravings in pregnancy is not fully understood. It is possible that a balanced diet may help with pregnancy cravings if the cravings are due to nutritional deficiencies. However, pregnancy cravings are not always as simple. A host of factors can contribute to pregnancy cravings and it may not always be Nevertheless a balanced diet is always advisable in pregnancy, both for the mother’s health and baby’s growth and development.

Food Aversions during Pregnancy

Food aversion may not be as common as cravings but they are also a normal part of pregnancy. Usually it is associated with morning sickness that is most prominent in the first trimester of pregnancy. There mere sight or smell of food may trigger or worsen the nausea and vomiting, However, it is not entirely uncommon for an aversion to a certain food or foods to arise and persist through pregnancy.

This specific aversion may be to a food that was consumed in large quantities and resulted in indigestion or nausea. At other times food aversions may not be as clearly understood.  Unlike other animals, pregnant human mothers usually do not develop an aversion to specific foods that could endanger the pregnancy. Nevertheless, aversions should not be ignored and pregnant women should avoid these foods unless it is necessary for health.

It is important to note that new foods may not be well tolerated in pregnancy. Therefore these foods should be avoided until after childbirth to prevent any gastrointestinal upset. Vomiting and diarrhea should be avoided a far as possible in pregnancy although it may at times be unavoidable. Dehydration should be prevented by proper rehydration so as not to put the pregnancy at risk.

Read more on dehydration during pregnancy.

Pica During Pregnancy

Pica is not just an abnormal craving. It compels a person to consume inedible itsems like chalk, sand, mud and even soap. Pica is not just a condition in pregnancy. It may also occur in males and non-pregnant women. However, in most of these cases it is associated with severe nutritional deficiencies and/or certain psychological or mental development problems.

Pica has been observed in some severe cases of iron-deficiency anemia and may also occur with other nutritional deficiencies. Pregnancy is a common risk factor for developing pica. However, not every pregnant women will develop pica and not even all pregnant women with severe deficiencies. In rare instances, a pregnant woman may consume toxic substances like lead to satisfy cravings for certain inedible itsems.

Treatment for Pregnancy Pica

There is no specific treatment that is effective for pica in any age group. In pregnant women, the underlying cause of pica should be investigated. Severe nutritional deficiencies require supplementation but this must be supervised by a health professional. Any psychological conditions should be managed with psychotherapy. Drug therapy should be avoided as far as possible in pregnancy unless it is deemed safe and necessary.

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