Whether it’s pickles and ice cream or marshmallows on nachos, 90 percent of women experience intense food desires known as pregnancy cravings. Pregnant women in their first and second trimesters — when cravings are most likely to occur — do not need to consume any extra calories if they’re at a healthy weight, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. So if cravings are not full of empty calories, they’re not considered unhealthy.

Although pregnancy cravings haven’t been studied in-depth, past research concluded that they do, in fact, exist. Women across varying cultures globally exhibit symptoms of these cravings.

What Do Pregnancy Cravings Feel Like?

Triggered by hormonal changes, pregnancy cravings are an intense compulsion to eat certain foods. Pregnancy cravings create what feels like a nearly irresistible urge to eat particular foods. The cravings themselves can range from fruit and vegetables to seemingly bizarre junk food combinations. Though cravings are a psychological desire for certain foods, they can be so strong that a pregnant woman’s body feels a physical need for them.

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How Early in Pregnancy Do You Have Cravings?

Pregnancy cravings tend to fade in the later stages of pregnancy, peaking in the first and second trimesters. It isn’t uncommon to begin experiencing cravings as early as five weeks into pregnancy. Cravings often coincide with the point at which women may begin experiencing food aversions.

What Are the Most Common Pregnancy Cravings?

Pregnancy cravings can be for nearly anything, but some of the most common include:

  • Ice cream
  • Red meat
  • Chocolate
  • Pickles
  • Coffee
  • Spice
  • Dairy products
  • Fruit

Should You Give in to Pregnancy Cravings?

As with all things, it is important to be reasonable when indulging your pregnancy cravings. These cravings, particularly toward junk food, can contribute to pregnancy weight gain. Pregnant women should consume a set number of calories in a day to remain healthy, so they should stay mindful of that.

Pregnant women should never give in to some cravings, particularly when they are for unsafe pregnancy foods. Those include raw or undercooked seafood, meat, and eggs and unpasteurized milk and cheeses.

Cravings are usually harmless, though it is crucial to recognize when they start to become unhealthy. Some pregnant women may develop pica, which is a compulsion to eat nonedible items such as paper or dirt. If you experience symptoms of pica, it is important to consult with your doctor.

How to Reduce Pregnancy Cravings

Though hormonal changes can make pregnancy cravings themselves innate and unavoidable, follow these tips to cope and remain healthy when battling cravings:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet and stay mindful of calorie limits during each trimester. Doing so provides the best way to reduce pregnancy cravings.
  • Attempt to satisfy urges with lower-calorie food options. For example, if you’re craving a fast-food cheeseburger, try making one at home using lean meat and low-fat cheese.
  • Space out meals. Cravings often seem the most intense when you’re hungry and have low blood sugar. Try breaking up your eating from three big meals a day to six smaller, satisfying ones.
  • Distract yourself. When you notice yourself wandering to the kitchen to eat a king-size chocolate bar, take your mind off the craving by doing some brief doctor-approved exercise or calling a loved one.

About UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital

For more than a century, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital has provided high-quality medical care to women at all stages of life. UPMC Magee is long renowned for its services to women and babies, but also offers a wide range of care to men as well. Nearly 10,000 babies are born each year at Magee, and the hospital’s NICU is one of the largest in the country. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health, and the Magee-Womens Research Institute is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology.