Pregnancy cravings: What they are, why they happen, and tips to manage them


As miraculous as pregnancy is, it’s far from a simple journey of growing a baby. It’s a whirlwind of changes, both physical and emotional. A woman’s body goes through an intense transformation during pregnancy. Your hormones fluctuate, your emotions go through a roller coaster ride, your belly grows, your feet swell, and your organs shift to accommodate your growing little one. That is no small feat!

But before all that even begins, something else will happen — your appetite will change drastically. For instance, you may begin to love foods you hated and hate foods you loved. You’ll start craving the foods that you never thought you’d eat. But why? Why do pregnancy cravings happen, what foods might you crave, when will you begin craving them, and should you be concerned? Let’s find out everything you need to know about pregnancy cravings and how you can manage them.

When do women experience food cravings, and why?

According to a research study by Frontiers in Psychology, women experience food cravings at two specific times — around menstruation and during pregnancy.

The most commonly accepted causes of pregnancy cravings include hormonal changes, cultural influences, and nutritional deficiencies. Beyond this, we’re about to share with you what little is known about pregnancy cravings.

Are pregnancy cravings different from regular cravings?

In the United States, food cravings are common among men and women but more frequently among women. Food cravings are the strong urge to eat, which is different from normal hunger and much harder to resist. Approximately 50 to 90% of pregnant women in the U.S. experience cravings.

When do pregnancy cravings start? 

Most women begin to experience food cravings towards the end of the first trimester, as shown in the research published in Ecology of Food and Nutrition. Furthermore, these cravings become more intense during the second trimester, followed by a decline closer to term. Food cravings continue to diminish once the baby is born.

Why do pregnancy cravings occur?

While little is known about why pregnancy cravings occur, there is some speculation that cravings are the body’s natural response to alleviate the vomiting and nausea that commonly occur during pregnancy. Pregnancy heightens a woman’s sense of smell and taste. Therefore, if you experience cravings, you’ll most likely also experience food aversions. Both are common.

Some attribute pregnancy cravings to the following factors:

  • Hormonal changes
  • Blood sugar fluctuations
  • Changes in smell and taste
  • Emotional and psychological factors

Common pregnancy cravings

In 2016, The Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics studied 1639 pregnant women. They found that “the most commonly craved foods were sweet foods, especially chocolate (35%), fruit and fruit juices (13%), and dairy foods (8%).”

Some other commonly craved foods include:

  • Pickles
  • Chocolates
  • Red meat
  • Cheese
  • Lemon
  • Fast food
  • Soda
  • Pizza
  • Candy
  • Ice cream
  • Fast food
  • Fruits
  • Veggies
  • Dairy products

There is no limit to what foods you crave when pregnant, it could be sweet, sour, salty, or spicy. These cravings can change significantly throughout your pregnancy.

Should you give in to your cravings?

The answer is yes and no. It’s common knowledge that eating well and staying healthy during pregnancy is good for your baby. An article published by Northwestern Medicine mentions that when those cravings kick in, it’s okay to indulge rather than ignore them but try to find healthier options where possible.

Here are some cravings and their healthier alternatives:

Craving: Sweets like chocolates

Healthier alternate: Try a smaller portion of dark chocolate instead

Craving: Ice cream

Healthier alternate: Sherbet and frozen yogurt

Craving: Salty chips

Healthier alternate: Thin-cut roasted potatoes seasoned with salt-free alternatives such as balsamic vinegar, garlic powder, or Italian seasoning

It’s also better to be careful of spicy foods because they can cause heartburn.

Weight gain and restrictions during pregnancy cravings

In the United States, excess gestational weight gain or GWG, is becoming common among pregnant women. A better understanding of pregnancy cravings might shed some light on GWG. Unfortunately, despite this, very little research has been conducted on pregnancy cravings and why they occur.

While food cravings are a common and natural part of pregnancy, finding a balance can be beneficial. It’s understandable to indulge in your cravings from time to time, yet leaning towards healthier options when possible can support both your well-being and that of your baby.

For better health of the mom and baby, avoiding high-carb and high-sodium foods is advisable. Foods such as sugars and refined grains that are high in carbohydrates can cause excessive weight gain, which in turn leads to complications such as gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes i.e. high blood sugar levels when pregnant, can cause high birth weight for babies or preterm birth.

Similarly, high-sodium foods increase water retention which can make your hands and feet swell. Additionally, consuming excessive amounts of sodium can raise your blood pressure and cause pre-eclampsia (a serious condition that affects the organs and causes severe complications for both mother and baby) or hypertension. 

Pregnancy weight gain and improper nutrition can lead to complications for you and your baby. In the United States, excess gestational weight gain, or GWG, is becoming common among pregnant women. 

For instance, hypertension, gestational diabetes, and a higher risk of cesarean delivery are all linked to excessive weight gain during pregnancy. It can also lead to a heavy birth weight for your baby, and, potentially, childhood obesity later in life. Unfortunately, despite this, very little research has been conducted on pregnancy cravings and why they occur.

Therefore, a better understanding of pregnancy cravings might shed some light on GWG. 

If you’re at a healthy weight, you only need an additional 200 to 300 calories in your second and third trimesters (for a 25 to 35-pound weight increase). For underweight mothers, gaining an additional 28 to 40 pounds is sufficient. If you’re overweight, your doctor may recommend only a 15 to 20-pound weight gain for your health and that of your little one. Each mother and pregnancy is different, so consult your doctor to determine what weight is right for you.

Weird pregnancy cravings

While craving a tub of ice cream, loads of chocolates or a jar of pickled cucumber may sound like a good old-fashioned craving, sometimes, pregnant people also find themselves craving things that aren’t edible or even food. 

Pica is an eating disorder wherein people want to eat non-food items such as soap, dirt, and clay. Pica is something that does affect pregnant women but thankfully, it’s rare! Other unusual things pregnant women crave due to Pica include:

  1. Toothpaste
  2. Cornstarch
  3. Sand
  4. Ice
  5. Charcoal
  6. Coffee grounds
  7. Cigarette ash
  8. Baking soda

According to an article published by the American Pregnancy Association, there is no definitive cause for Pica in pregnancy. However, the article does reference the Journal of American Dietetic Association, which suggests a correlation between iron deficiency and pica cravings during pregnancy. If you experience such cravings, it’s best to consult your doctor immediately to rule out deficiencies.

Tips to manage your cravings

While managing your pregnancy cravings is to some extent intuitive, there are a few things you can do to stick to a healthy weight and diet and manage your cravings –

  1. Try smaller meals and grab a snack every couple of hours.
  2. Try a variety of foods.
  3. To get your extra calories, try lean meats, low-fat or fat-free dairy, nuts, whole grain cereals and breads, veggies, and fruits.
  4. Have healthy options readily available to avoid succumbing to unhealthy cravings. Stock up on nutritious snacks like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and yogurt. These can satisfy cravings while providing essential nutrients.
  5. Aim for meals balanced with a mix of protein, healthy fats, carbohydrates, and fiber. This can help stabilize blood sugar levels and reduce cravings.
  6. Drink lots of water throughout the day, approximately 12 cups. 
  7. Pay attention to what triggers your cravings. Stress, fatigue, and certain emotions can often lead to cravings. Finding alternative ways to cope with these triggers can help.
  8. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian for guidance and support in managing cravings during pregnancy. They can offer personalized advice and strategies to help you navigate this exciting time.


Q: When do pregnancy cravings start?

A: Typically, pregnancy cravings begin in the first trimester around week five. 

Q: What is the most common pregnancy craving?

A: There isn’t one specific craving but a list—chocolate, ice cream, peanut butter, pickles, red meat, lemons, spicy food, and cheese are quite common.

Q: What happens if you ignore pregnancy cravings?

A: Pregnancy is about consuming the right calories and maintaining a well-balanced diet. Therefore, ignoring your cravings isn’t harmful.

Q: Should I give in to my pregnancy cravings?

A: Pregnancy cravings are usually harmless, therefore, occasionally giving in to cravings won’t impact your health. However, giving into cravings too frequently can lead to excessive weight gain.  

More posts you might like:


  1. A guide to pregnancy cravings. Northwestern Medicine. You Want to Eat What? An OB/GYN’s Guide to Pregnancy Cravings.
  2. Pica cravings. American Pregnancy Association. Pica Cravings During Pregnancy.
  3. Food cravings during pregnancy. 2014. Frontiers in Psychology. Pickles and ice cream! Food cravings in pregnancy: hypotheses, preliminary evidence, and directions for future research.
  4. Cravings and aversions during pregnancy. 2010. Taylor & Francis online. Influence of cravings and aversions on diet in pregnancy.
  5. Cravings and aversions during pregnancy. 1992. National Library of Medicine. Cravings and aversions of pregnant adolescents.
  6. Gestational weight gain. 2008. ScienceDirect. Gestational weight gain and risk of overweight in the offspring at age 7 y in a multicenter, multiethnic cohort study.
  7. Food cravings in pregnancy. 2016. National Library of Medicine. Nutritional and clinical associations of food cravings in pregnancy.
  8. Pre-eclampsia. NHS – National Health Service. Pre-eclampsia.
  9. Diabetes in pregnancy. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Pregnancy if You Have Diabetes.


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