Expecting mothers go through dramatic physical changes during pregnancy.
Some common pregnancy symptoms include food aversions, a heightened sense of smell, and, of course, an increase in food cravings.
You might notice that you’re craving certain foods at all times of day and night, and in strange combinations.
This can start in the first trimester and continue into the second trimester; for some, it can even span out up to your due date.
While giving in to these cravings may feel good in the moment, it can be massively inconvenient to put together the specific combo you’re yearning for, and sometimes you just aren’t willing to get the sugar-induced stomachache that you know will come after that potato-chip-hot-fudge-sundae that sounds so good right now.
You’ve probably wondered: what happens if you ignore pregnancy cravings?
In this guide from PregnancyResource.org, we’ll go over pregnancy cravings, their causes, what happens when you give in, and what happens if you ignore them.
What Causes Pregnancy Cravings?
One of the most commonly-cited reasons for pregnancy cravings is the increased nutritional need that comes with growing a baby.
Intuitively, this makes sense. If your body is deficient in some vitamin or mineral, it will respond by making you crave foods high in those vitamins or minerals.
This is supported by the fact that pregnancy cravings are not a universal phenomenon.
In many cultures, women do not experience cravings for comfort foods high in carbohydrates — unlike pregnant women in the U.S. — and actually report very little pregnancy weight gain.
This is likely because women in the U.S. are more likely to deprive themselves of “bad” foods high in carbs and fat.
During pregnancy, however, it is much more socially acceptable (and even encouraged) to eat these foods because of the comfort they bring to an often stressful experience.
As a result, pregnant women may use this time to make up for lost deprivation, leading to cravings that can result in excessive weight gain that isn’t medically necessary or beneficial for the baby.
Because comfort food tends to be addictively high in sugar, fat, and artificial ingredients, indulging in them can actually lead to an increase in cravings.
Additionally, restricting other sources of culinary-centered pleasure, such as a glass of wine or a fat-rich serving of sashimi, can lead pregnant women to seek this pleasure elsewhere, such as unhealthy foods that aren’t inherently “off-limits” during pregnancy.
While this makes sense for junk food cravings, why do some pregnant women crave healthy foods, like pickles?
Most likely, this is a combination of hormonal changes, appetite changes, and increased nutritional needs.
If you think you may be taking in less nutrients than you should be, consult with your OBGYN and they can help you check to see if supplementation may be beneficial.
What Happens If You Ignore Pregnancy Cravings?
The most common pregnancy cravings may lean toward junk foods, but some women experience unusual cravings for inedible items like laundry starch, rocks, or clay — this phenomenon is known as pica.
If you find yourself craving non-food items, speak to your doctor, as this may actually be a sign of an iron deficiency.
Addressing these in time can help prevent potential complications.
However, if you find yourself craving junk food like many pregnant women in the U.S., you should try your best to ignore them.
Taking care of your health is essential during pregnancy, as it will ensure that your baby develops as ideally as possible.
Since you’re already avoiding smoking, drinking, and other harmful behaviors, you should avoid unhealthy food, too.
In addition, giving in to pregnancy cravings can cause weight gain.
How much weight you gain during pregnancy can affect you and your baby’s long-term health?
If you gain excessive weight during pregnancy, your baby can also grow too large, leading to complications during labor. It can also increase your baby’s chances of being overweight in childhood.
Gaining too much weight can also make it hard for you to get back to an average post-pregnancy weight.
Because being overweight or obese is associated with various health problems, it’s best to avoid getting to that state in the first place.
Tips for Dealing With Pregnancy Cravings
1. Try Not To Think About It
Because many pregnancy cravings are psychological, the best way to stop them is to not think about them.
As soon as you find yourself ruminating on a certain food, try to shift your attention to something else.
You can also use distractions to not give in to cravings. It’s normal to experience cravings when you’re bored and restless (even for those who aren’t pregnant).
However, as soon as you find yourself doing something that makes the time fly by, your cravings may disappear.
2. Eat Nutritious Food
Satisfying food cravings with junk food is nearly impossible because junk food is inherently designed to be addictive. The more you eat, the more of it you’ll want.
To keep this from happening to you, eat a whole-food diet full of the nutrients your body needs.
Turn to healthy snacks like crunchy veggies, whole grains, and fresh fruit. If you are craving a specific food, aim for its healthier substitute.
For instance, dark chocolate tends to be low in sugar and high in nutrients, making it a healthy alternative to milk chocolate (though keep in mind that dark chocolate does contain a small amount of caffeine).
With a bumped-up need for calcium and iron, pay attention to what you eat so you know you’re getting the nutrients your baby needs, and you can lower the risk of developing amenia while supporting baby’s growth.
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3. Get Social Support
Pregnancy food cravings often involve other people, such as your partner (who has to make a midnight run to the store).
In this way, pregnancy cravings can be your way of asking for support during a physically and emotionally challenging time. It can also be a way to feel more connected to your partner.
It’s important to recognize this need for social support during pregnancy and seek it in other ways — preferably those that don’t involve food.
Ask for some dedicated snuggling time, an easy date night out, or even just some extra physical affection throughout the day.
In some cases, pregnancy cravings can be a sign of a nutritional deficiency.
Getting adequate prenatal care can help your doctor pick up on any nutrient deficiencies and address them.
However, in most cases, pregnancy cravings are a form of stress-eating during a physically and emotionally draining time.
Because pregnancy cravings are associated with an increase in weight gain, it’s better to ignore them — there are so many better-for-you foods out there that will provide the nutrients your baby needs to grow healthy and strong!
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Bridget Reed is a Tampa-based content development manager, writer, and editor at GR0; specializing in content related to varying fields including medicine, health, and small businesses. Bridget went to St. Petersburg College and majored in Management and Organizational Leadership.
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