When you have to get it – Pregnancy Cravings and why they occur

Pregnancy cravings are, for many women, one of the changes that accompany pregnancy. These drastic appetite changes are thought to occur as a result of hormonal changes in the pregnant woman’s body. According to the book, Healing Your Body Naturally After Childbirth, the sudden change in female sex hormones could be to blame. This has also been shown to cause a drop in dopamine levels. To understand why this is associated with cravings, it is important to consider what the role of dopamine is in the body.

Dopamine is often referred to as the ‘feel good’ hormone. According to the Science Daily, dopamine is responsible for our happiness. The body is wired so that when one thinks about eating foods that have a high concentration of fats and calories, dopamine levels increase in the body. It is no surprise that often, such foods are comfort foods. They make us feel good since they increase the amount of dopamine in the body. During pregnancy, it is not uncommon to crave foods that you haven’t had in many years.

What about pregnancy cravings and nutritional deficiencies?

Another theory suggests that pregnant mothers typically experience cravings for nutritional deficiencies. This is the body’s mechanism of ensuring that the pregnancy is supported with proper nutrition. Specific cravings are an indication that certain micronutrients are lacking in the body. Craving salty foods for example, has been shown to indicate a magnesium deficiency. Craving sweet sugary foods on the other hand, has been associated with low energy levels and carbohydrate deficiency.

When pregnant women find themselves craving dairy products, this is likely to be because of low calcium levels in the body. Craving fatty foods is linked to reduced levels of essential fatty acids in the body.

Read More: Why am I experiencing morning sickness?

A scientific study done to establish the most common cravings among pregnant woman showed that sweet foods such as chocolate ranked top, followed by savoury carbohydrates sources such as chips. The image below shows a summary of the top five cravings according to this study.

Top pregnancy cravings

Image courtesy of Family & Co. Nutrition

Are pregnancy cravings a bad thing?

Pregnancy cravings, in and of themselves, are not a bad thing. Most pregnant women will admit to satisfying their cravings and feeling a lot better after that. This also provides a moment to appreciate the specific food that they crave. This is especially important because ignoring cravings does not make them go away.

Excessive weight gain

One of the downsides of pregnancy cravings, however, is the increased risk of excessive weight gain during and after pregnancy. This excess weight places women at a higher risk of gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that occurs for the first time during pregnancy, in a woman who has not had diabetes before. Gaining weight rapidly during pregnancy heightens the risk of gestational diabetes.

Read More: Here is how gestational diabetes affects the baby

Excessive weight gain has also been known to increase the chances of complications arising during labour and delivery. This happens because the weight gain usually increases the baby’s size. While having a big baby is not a bad thing in itself, it does complicate labour. In fact, in many cases, big babies have trouble getting out naturally, thus necessitating a last minute C-section.

It also becomes more difficult to lose weight postpartum. Indulging excessively during pregnancy cravings often leads to weight gain, and this may take a long time to lose.

Aside from pregnancy cravings where women crave food, another condition exists in which women crave substances with little or no nutritional benefits. Let us look at why some women will develop pica during pregnancy.

Pica cravings during pregnancy

Pica is a condition where pregnant women crave non-nutritive items, as opposed to pregnancy cravings for different types of foods. A pregnant woman is said to have pica if the condition persists for more than a month. It is interesting to note that the word ‘pica’ comes from the Latin word for magpie. The magpie is a type of bird that is thought to eat just about anything.

What are some of the common pica cravings during pregnancy?

The sudden urge to indulge in soil from your kitchen garden or to chew on matchsticks during pregnancy could point to pica. The American Pregnancy Association indicates that some of the most common pica cravings include:

  • Dirt
  • Sand
  • Burnt matchsticks
  • Charcoal
  • Soap
  • Cigarette ashes

Why do some women get pica during pregnancy?

The precise cause of Pica is unknown, but research shows that it could be linked to low levels of iron in the body, as well as poor nutrition. Since there are no particular tests for pica, most women will get tested to find out whether they suffer from vitamin deficiencies.

Depending on what a pregnant woman eats, some of the effects of pica may include:

  • Constipation
  • Stomach cramping
  • Infection
  • Obstruction of the intestines
  • Malnutrition as a result of not getting enough nutrients
  • Poisoning

NB: In some cases, pregnant women experience lead poisoning after consuming clay and soil. Lead is known to cause neurological damage to the unborn baby. There is also an increased risk of developmental disorders in babies who are exposed to lead in-utero.

If you suspect that you could be suffering from pica, it is important to get medical attention. This way, the doctor will be able to walk with you through the journey to get you the help you need. Such a treatment plan will help manage the cravings while ensuring that you are getting adequate nutrients for a healthy pregnancy.


In general, pregnancy cravings are not anything to worry about. Concern arises when pregnancy cravings replace nutritious foods, leading to poor nutrition and excessive weight gain. With pica, it is important that pregnant women speak to their doctors. This may often be accompanied by feelings of shame as some women find it difficult to manage their pica cravings. As a general guide, try and make sure that your daily diet is not replaced by cheesy pizza, French fries and soda.

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