The Science Behind Pregnancy Cravings

The Science Behind Pregnancy Cravings

October 28, 2016



Pregnancy cravings are a weird phenomenon. We’ve been trying to find the real reasons why expectant mothers often find themselves munching the oddest things.


Pregnancy Cravings and the Brain


One of the reasons that pregnant women get ravenous for particular types of food is that the chemical balance of the brain changes. Research has shown that appetite supressing hormones fall, while the ones that increase it rise dramatically. Other studies have shown that most pregnant women become more sensitive to tastes and smells, particularly bitter or sour ones. The links between heightened taste, smell, increased appetite and cravings haven’t been fully explored yet, but it you don’t need a PhD to see that there’s probably a relationship.


It’s thought that cravings have a lot to do with avoiding certain foods: some scientists have suggested that finding bitterness a bit much may guide an expectant woman away from poisons, while trying to avoid sour things can mean that they head for sweeter, more calorific foods. Some women find the smell of cooking meat disgusting, which prevents them from eating things which have higher risks of causing food poisoning or possibly containing parasites.


Curious Cravings


Women may also crave particular foods during pregnancy because certain dishes contain a nutrient they’re lacking. Women who are short of iron, for example, sometimes crave clay or ice. The desire to chow down on stuff that really isn’t food is known as ‘pica’. This strange condition is often linked with dietary deficiencies or mental illness, and seems to occur more in women who were underweight or anaemic when the baby was conceived.


Unusual pregnancy munchies include:


  • Glass,
  • Household sponge,
  • Soap and bubbles,
  • Hair,
  • Paper, including toilet paper,
  • Soil and ash,


Should You Give in To Cravings?


If your craving isn’t dangerous to you or the baby, the occasional ice-cream and mustard sandwich won’t do you too much harm. However, if you’re licking your lips at the sight of chalk or the dog’s squeaky toy, it’s probably time to call the doctor. Eating things that aren’t… well… food can expose you to dangerous substances and bacteria.


Cravings also have strong links to excess weight gain during pregnancy and with all the problems that go along with it. For this reason, it’s best not to indulge yourself all the time. A desire for high-fat, high-calorie foods is very common in pregnancy. These treats can cause problems such as high-blood pressure and diabetes if not approached with respect.


A Medical Mystery


There is still much unknown about pregnancy cravings, and many questions still to be asked. While it’s true that some women hanker after things that are full of specific vitamins they need, it’s also true that others dream of chomping on things that really aren’t. In any case, it’s certainly true that cravings are a fascinating (and sometimes annoying) part of pregnancy; a perfect excuse to sneak a scoop of ice-cream if nothing else.


What’s your craving? Let us know on Facebook or tell us in the comments below.