pregnant belly with food
Louise Broadbridge
Louise Broadbridge

What happens if you ignore pregnancy cravings?

When you’re pregnant, you can experience very intense food cravings which can be difficult to ignore.

You may hear people saying that you shouldn’t ignore a pregnancy craving and that it is your body’s way of telling you what you need. But if you are craving fatty or high calorie foods, frequently indulging in the things you crave can cause you to put on extra weight during your pregnancy which can be difficult to lose when your baby arrives.

If you are eating a healthy and balanced diet with plenty of nutrients, it is perfectly safe to ignore a pregnancy craving if you want to. It is also fine to eat the foods you crave so long as it is in moderation and not something which could be harmful to you and your baby.

Don’t dismiss your cravings completely though as they can be an indicator that you need more of a certain type of food. If your iron levels are low, you may find you get the urge to eat red meat so make sure your diet isn’t lacking in something important and try not to skip any meals.

Why do we get pregnancy cravings?

Research suggests around 80 per cent of pregnant women experience cravings at some point so they are extremely common. They can be caused by deficiencies but having a pregnancy craving does not necessarily mean you are not getting all the nutrients you need.

Changes in your hormone levels can also cause cravings, which is why women often crave certain foods just before or during their period. A rise in gestational hormones controlling the flow of blood sugar to your baby during the second trimester may make you want to eat more sweet foods at this time.

A heightened sense of taste and smell can also make you want to eat particular things (and also put you off foods you would normally enjoy). Sometimes, your cravings might be more about the sensation of the food so you may want something with a certain texture.

When do pregnancy cravings start?

All pregnant people are different and cravings can start at different times. However, most women who experience cravings will start getting them during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Cravings will often peak during the second trimester before becoming less frequent and less intense in the third trimester. Research suggests that people are more likely to crave savoury foods in the first trimester and then sweet foods during the second trimester. 

When should I ignore a pregnancy craving?

Most of the time, it is fine to listen to your instincts and eat the foods you crave so long as you are not eating to excess and they are not preventing you from eating a balanced diet. However, some pregnant women experience pica – an intense urge to eat items which aren’t food.

Pica can be caused by a nutrient deficiency, often iron or zinc, or an underlying health issue. If your cravings are for non-food items, don’t indulge them and speak to your midwife who can make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need to be healthy.

People with pica often crave things like dirt, sand, soap, toothpaste, chalk, paint and ice. Some of these items can be toxic and may cause problems if you do eat them.

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