The Curious Case of Pregnancy Cravings

What do salami-wrapped pickles, cookies dipped in barbeque sauce, and glazed doughnuts drizzled in mustard have in common? They’re probably bizarre if you’re not pregnant, and are all part of a fictitious food group called “pregnancy cravings”. With the holidays upon us, some bizarre pregnancy cravings are bound to reveal themselves. Let’s take a look at why.

Depending on the study, reports estimate 50-90% of pregnant moms in the U.S. will experience a specific food craving.  Cravings appear in the first trimester, peak in the second trimester and usually resolve by birth.  Younger mothers have stronger cravings than older moms so you may find that your cravings decrease with each pregnancy. Prevalence and craving types are associated with geographic regions and different cultures. 1

While there is not a lot of research explaining these cravings, here are a few theories:

  1. Hormonal changes: Hormones are often our scapegoat for many things pregnancy-related, but did you know they could also be one cause of bizarre pregnancy cravings? A woman’s sense of smell is intensified by hormones, which affects her taste buds. This can create urges for foods she wouldn’t normally desire. Some develop unusual cravings for spices, salts, and exotic flavors, only to regain their disdain for them after pregnancy which helps validate this theory.
  2. Brain chemistry (neurochemistry): You may not be aware that your brain chemistry changes during pregnancy.  Everyone’s brain makes a substance called Neuropeptide Y (NPY).  NPY is known as one of the most potent appetite stimulants, and recent research has suggested that NPY production is increased in pregnancy.  This growing appetite may be responsible for some of your new mommy cravings.2
  3. Emotional needs: Food can trigger a lot of emotions, pregnant or not, and it’s not unusual for sentimental cravings to occur during pregnancy. So, guys, be sure to have some ice cream topped with mac n’ cheese next time she’s cuddled up on the couch watching “The Notebook”.  You’ll thank us later.
  4. Temporary nutritional deficits: This theory’s premise is that a woman might have a pregnancy craving for steak if she were deficient in protein or another craving for pickles if she were low in sodium, and so on.

In general, what do pregnant women desire the most? One source says of the 50-90% who experience pregnancy cravings, 26% of them crave sweets.1

Food for thought, maintain a healthy lifestyle when pregnant by keeping a balanced diet and remembering moderation when it comes to unhealthy cravings. BabyCenter offers six healthy fixes for pregnancy junk food cravings to help. Or follow us on Pinterest to get a healthy dose of recipes for the whole family!

What’s the most bizarre pregnancy craving you’ve experienced? Post in the comments below!


  1. Orloff, NC et al. “Pickles and ice cream.  Food cravings in pregnancy: hypotheses, preliminary evidence, and directions for the future” Frontiers in Psychology 2014; 5:1074
  1. Oberto, A et al “Evidence of Altered Neuropeptide Y Content and Neuropeptide Y1 Receptor Gene Expression in the Hypothalamus of Transgenic Mice”. Endocrinology 144(11):4826-4830

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