Finding new taste turn-ons (and turn-offs!) every day? Here's what causes food cravings and aversions during pregnancy, and what you can do about them.

Pickles and popcorn and pie — oh my! If your taste buds have gone haywire, join the club: Pregnancy cravings and aversions are incredibly common. In fact, a whopping 50 to 90 percent of pregnant women may have a sudden urge for a particular food or dish, while many others are suddenly turned off by foods they used to like.

The bottom line: You’re not the only one who can’t stand the sight or smell of chicken. If you’re wondering when food aversions and cravings begin and end during pregnancy, as well as which ones are common and what to do when these sudden (and strange!) urges hit, read on.

What are the most common pregnancy food aversions?

A food aversion during pregnancy is the strong desire to avoid a certain dish, though the ones you find repulsive might be just fine for other expectant mothers. In general, the most common food aversions that crop up during pregnancy include eggs, onions, fish and other seafood, garlic, meat and dairy products.

If you’re searching for a common denominator in this grouping, it could be the smell factor, since onions, garlic, meat and cooked fish can have very strong odors. Texture might also play a role: Eggs can be slippery or slimy and some types of dairy, like yogurt, are thick and gooey and may therefore be unappetizing.

What are the most common pregnancy cravings?

A food craving, on the other hand, is a dish you just can’t get enough of. The most common pregnancy cravings  include fruit, vegetables, carbs (like cookies and cake), salty snacks like chips, and chocolate. But you may crave your mother’s lasagna or pickles in equal measure.

Oddly enough, ice is another common pregnancy craving. Craving and chewing ice are often pegged to anemia, a condition where your body isn’t making the red blood cells it needs to carry oxygen. While a craving for ice chips is harmless enough, it could mean that you’re deficient in a certain nutrient or mineral, such as iron, so speak with your doctor about it.

How soon do food aversions and cravings start in pregnancy?

Food cravings usually emerge at the end of the first trimester, peak and intensify during the second trimester and then typically subside toward the end of pregnancy. Around the same time, many pregnant women also experience at least one food aversion.


Food aversions are often associated with morning sickness and nausea. And while you may experience both intense cravings and aversions at the same time, research suggests these urges are probably unrelated to each other.


What causes food cravings and aversions during pregnancy?

Several factors may be at work when it comes to those appetite turn-ons and turn-offs you're experiencing, including the following:


Pregnancy hormones may play a role, especially early on when your body is positively flooded with them. If you experienced strong cravings for, say, chocolate before pregnancy — especially before your period — you’re likely to feel the same urges now.


Wacky senses

Your taste receptors and sense of smell may be super sensitive, dull or generally out of whack (all are common during pregnancy). The result? A bite of broccoli might seem downright disgusting because your mouth is hyper-attuned to its bitterness.


Crossed nutrition signals

There may also be some truth to the notion that you crave what your body needs and are repulsed by what's not good for you. This theory works with pre-pregnancy favorites like coffee and alcohol, which can suddenly turn off regular drinkers of both. 

But it doesn't quite explain why you might turn your nose up at healthy foods you used to love, like salad or oatmeal. One theory is that humans have moved so far from the original food chain that the body can no longer reliably interpret its own internal signals.

Yes, your body knows it needs vitamin C and calcium, but these days that may translate into a craving for ice cream with crushed Oreos instead of a slice of cantaloupe and a glass of milk.


A need for comfort (food)

You may crave special foods and dishes that you associate with your culture and upbringing. As long as what you’re craving is part of a healthy diet, it’s fine to indulge. So go ahead and  enjoy the mac and cheese you ate as a child from time to time.


What can I do about food cravings and aversions during pregnancy?

You can't always fight these symptoms, so just try to respond with reason. Remember that while food cravings and aversions tend to intensify in the second trimester, they usually start to wane by the third.

If yours don't, it may be an indication that something else is going on. Check in with your practitioner just to be sure everything is okay. Here are some other helpful tips:

  • Make it mini. Try to avoid going crazy with pregnancy cravings that do nothing for you nutritionally — even when you give in to them. For example, go for a mini chocolate bar instead of a bigger version, or a glass of low-fat chocolate milk rather than a tray of brownies.
  • Get moving. When cravings strike, head for the hills (or another distracting place). Take a walk or go to the gym. Even reading a book or calling a friend for a chat may take your mind off that glazed donut that's calling your name.
  • Give in. It’s totally fine to indulge a craving once in a while (except alcohol, of course), then strive to eat well for the rest of the day.
  • Find alternatives. If aversions during pregnancy are limiting your food intake, look for substitutes for the healthy foods that you can't stomach right now.
  • Make exceptions. Are you a vegetarian or vegan and also dying for a cheeseburger? If you can live with it, it’s okay to have some meat and dairy now and then go back to your usual diet after you deliver. Or shop the meat-substitute aisle for similar-tasting options, such as tofu hot dogs or seasoned tofu crumbles for chili or tacos.


Can I prevent food cravings and aversions during pregnancy?

Probably not, but you can stock up on healthier options that’ll help you indulge your cravings without overdoing it. For example, if you know you’re craving sweets and dairy products, keep a supply of fresh fruit and yogurt on hand so you don’t binge on chocolate milkshakes (although one or two won’t hurt you!).

At the same time, speak up if you know certain foods make you feel nauseous. So if the smell of grilled salmon or barbecued chicken makes you gag, tell your spouse to order a pizza instead.


When can I expect food cravings and aversions to end while I'm pregnant?

Most pregnant women say their food cravings peak during the second trimester. But don’t be surprised if your strange taste-related symptoms ebb and flow without following any particular pattern.

By the third trimester, your appetite and taste buds may well be the way they were pre-pregnancy. If not, don’t fret ... your eating habits will go back to normal once the baby is born.


When should I call the doctor about food cravings and aversions?

Call your practitioner if you crave substances such as clay, dirt, ashes, laundry starch or even harmless ice cubes. This type of non-food craving, known as pica, may be a sign of a nutritional deficiency, particularly of iron or zinc, or other problem.

Also, if your morning sickness just won’t quit, talk to your doctor about medications that can relieve common early pregnancy symptoms like nausea.

Grab them now!