Like almost every strange but harmless episode during pregnancy – from tingling hands to a snuffly nose – changes in your sense of taste and your eatings habits can be put down to your hormones.
Why do tastes change in pregnancy?
Hormones The balance of hormones changes during pregnancy, because your body suddenly has to prepare for a new era – channeling nutrition to new parts of the body, loosening up your body's physiological structure to enable your bump to grow and your lower half to prepare for birth, and so on. And one of the side effects of these hormonal changes is that it can affect your sense of taste.
For some, this might mean they go off certain foods or drinks that they enjoyed before.
Neccessary changes to your diet As well as the hormonal changes, being pregnant usually means enforced changes in our diet. Obvious factors like cutting out alcohol, certain fish, raw meats and fish, and unpasteurised cheeses, might mean that your daily or weekly intake has changed quite a bit since you realised you were having a baby. This shift can cause new habits to form – rediscovering a food you used to love or one you haven't tried before, as you adapt your diet.
Needing to re-fuel You need to eat well during pregnancy and again this can cause a change in what you eat. If you were the kind of person who used to skip breakfast or have a light lunch, will you find now that you simple cannot get away with it. Instead, you will need to have small snacks through the day as well as your regular meals. You therefore might surprise yourself in how often you are grazing on nuts, fruit etc.
Will I definitely get a craving when I'm pregnant?
Not everyone gets a particular food craving or aversion during pregnancy, but it is estimated that as least three-quarters of us will experience this.
It might be something we really don't notice (mine was demanding honey on toast for breakfast, which is not very weird at all!), and often these taste changes happen in the first trimester, when our hormones are going through major adjustments. If you suffer from morning sickness (also more common in the first trimester) you might feel the nausea is affecting your taste more than anything.
Is it true that we crave certain things for a reason?
Popular thinking for many years has it that we crave something we are lacking and which our body needs.
If you eat a fairly well-balanced diet, it is unlikely that your craving is much more than a comfort experience – ice cream, a chocolate bar – to compensate for the tiredness and possibly the background stress of dealing with the big challenge ahead of you. If you find yourself eating tons more fruit, it could be that you are finding this new health kick – less late nights, no boozing etc – is genuinely pushing your body to enjoy those vitamin bursts you get from mango, oranges or whatever it is you love to gorge on now.
Extreme cases, when some women find themselves wanting to eat non-food substances (like coal, for example), is regarded as a possible sign of iron deficiency (or some other nutrional issue).
Because the body requires more blood during pregnancy, this puts greater demand on the right balance of iron we have too. So checking out any possible sign of deficiency like this, with your GP or midwife, should be a priority.
What if my cravings are bad for me or my baby?
No matter how much you think you might crave a particular food, the desire will not be that of an addict.
If you are vegetarian and you are getting cravings for meat, for example, don't feel you have to give up your ways and become a carnivore overnight. Think first about whether or not your diet is well balanced, and has plenty of good proteins to compensate for the lack of meat you are eating. If you are a fish eater, you should be fine. If you don't eat meat or fish (or are a vegan) you may well already be well attuned to good diet habits to compensate. If not, grab yourself a good veggie cookbook and it will tell you all you need about a balanced diet in the intro.
If your craving is for cream cakes, don't give yourself a hard time – you probably do need the extra calories and the odd treat makes up for tired feet and an achy back. But try, most of the time, to reach for good calories (nuts rather than crisps) as you will find that your body needs refuelling less quickly after 'good calories', and you're less likely to gain weight too quickly.