- Pregnancy cravings are usually the strongest during the second trimester and will go away after giving birth.
- If you’re craving chalk, clay, or paint chips, this could a sign of severe iron deficiency and you should consult your physician for help.
- This article was medically reviewed by Karen Duncan, MD, who is an assistant professor with the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYU Langone.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Pregnancy cravings are no joke. At least half of pregnant women experience cravings at some point in their pregnancy.
Whether it’s a hankering for salty, sweet, savoury, or all of the above, cravings can be nearly impossible to ignore. Here’s when you can expect to experience the strongest cravings, when they will subside, and cravings can be a warning sign something is wrong.
When pregnancy cravings start
“Cravings can start very early in pregnancy – before a woman even knows she’s pregnant – and may last the entire pregnancy,” says Erin Higgins, an obstetrician-gynecologist at the Cleveland Clinic.
While cravings can strike at any point, they tend to peak in the second trimester – along with swollen ankles and back pain – and slow down during the third trimester. You can expect cravings to drop off significantly after giving birth, Higgins says.
What causes pregnancy cravings
You’re undergoing a lot of hormonal, psychological, and physical changes simultaneously during pregnancy. That makes it difficult to pin down a root cause for pregnancy cravings.
“Cravings in pregnancy aren’t very well understood,” Higgins says. “They are likely related to hormonal fluctuations and probably represent some sort of nutritional need, such as sodium, calcium, or fat.”
For example, craving pickles might mean your body needs sodium because pickles are usually high in sodium. But it could also just mean you’re in the mood for a pickle. It’s difficult to measure one from the other, though pregnancy cravings can be stronger and harder to avoid.
“Additionally, there can be some alterations in taste and smell during pregnancy, leading to different cravings or aversions than one might have outside of pregnancy,” Higgins adds.
When to see a doctor about pregnancy cravings
Aside from regular food cravings, it’s possible to develop some more unusual cravings that could be red flags.
“Strange cravings for nonorganic, nonfood items can be indicative of a nutritional deficiency,” Higgins says. “In a condition called pica, people with iron-deficiency anemia crave and often eat, chalk, clay, paint chips, or dirt. The craving can be intense.”
These are cravings you should certainly discuss with your doctor and not give in to. “Some dirt, clay, or paint chips may contain lead, which can be very dangerous to both the woman and her baby,” she says. As for your run-of-the-mill food cravings, it’s OK to treat yourself.
“Within reason, cravings for food items can be indulged,” Higgins says. “Most cravings are mild or sporadic and thus pose little risk to the pregnancy.”
In other words, give in to your desire for salty, greasy fries from time to time. But if you can’t eat anything other than fries for every meal of the day for days straight, it may be time to get your doctor involved.
“When the cravings lead to a poor diet, intervention may be necessary,” Higgins says. “Sometimes just finding a healthy alternative to less healthy cravings can help. Nutritionists are of great help during pregnancy for those who struggle with aversions, strange cravings, and nausea or vomiting.”
After all, a balanced nutritional diet is as important as ever for your health as well as your unborn child’s. Because if you’re not careful, and you consume too many calories, you put yourself at risk for complications like gestational diabetes – when a woman develops diabetes while pregnant. Moreover, if you’re deficient in certain key nutrients, like iodine, it could affect your unborn’s development.
You can still have a healthy baby if you have gestational diabetes, but it can cause its own complications, such as high blood sugar in the baby and high blood pressure and low blood sugar for the mother.
Don’t hesitate to turn to your OB-GYN, general doctor, or a nutritionist if you’re looking for some guidance or want to voice any concerns. You want to try to keep yourself as strong and healthy as possible – for both you and your baby.