The idea of wanting and being able to eat any morsel of food your body might crave is something that will either sound really appealing or really worrying to all expectant mothers. We've all heard horror stories/dreams come true of mothers munching on Oreo abominations or fresh chillies smothered in hot sauce, but what causes these weird hungers, and is there a right way to appease them? For those on the precipice of downing a pint of chocolate sundae, here's our guide to dealing with pregnancy cravings.Why do I want to eat the Universe?
It would be a simple thing if pregnant women simply had a need to eat loads, but it's the strange and surreal meal choices that are so infamous. Naturally hormones have their part to play in altering your taste and smell in such an extreme way. Research suggests that small protein-like molecules called Neuropeptide (NPY) are increased during pregnancy, which might explain a lot as it's heavily associated with food intake, metabolism, reward, and is one of the strongest appetite stimulants we know of. In all earnestness there's not a lot of indicative hormonal research that can pinpoint an underlying cause for extremely particular cravings.
There's a wide variety of ideas for why cheese and peanut butter suddenly sound irresistible to pregnant women. Cultural factors might play a part, as a studies in different countries show pregnant woman have stark differences for what they prefer to gorge on e.g. in Tanzania, a survey of 200 women found that meat (followed by mangoes) was top of the menu, whilst in the US it was dairy and sweet foods. Some alternative medicine proponents believe what you crave could be attributed to important nutrients you're bodies lacking during this period, but like much of individual nutrition there's very little science to go upon.
How best to appease the beast?
It would be nice if we could cut short this blog here by saying 'Eat!', but unfortunately giving into every hunger may not be the best course of action. It's fine to indulge in every other monstrous longing for food, but most of the time you should be trying to find healthy alternatives to those cravings high in fat, sugar etc. Most of the same advice that applies to your regular diet goes double here: don't skip breakfast that will make your cravings that much worse, make sure you get plenty of exercise, and try to get as much emotional support during your pregnancy. After all, a simple hug will do you just as good as trying to eat those moodswings away.
Are There Cravings That Go Too Far?
Though hugely unlikely, it may transpire that you end up craving things that are, well, not really food. This condition is known as 'pica', and it can lead expectant mothers to desire things that aren't just weird, but could actually be harmful for both her and the baby. It may sound very bizarre, but the wanting of everything from toilet paper to toothpaste can actually become an uncontrollable urge. Luckily treatment for pica in pregnant women is usually quite successful, so do consult your GP if your desire for dirt, wax, clay, dirty ice or clothing is for some reason starting to worry you a little bit...
But I'm actually AVOIDING certain foods now!
Just as common as pregnancy food cravings are pregnancy food turn-offs. Most women during their 9 months experience at least one food aversion, or they become repulsed by a food they may well have thoroughly enjoyed before they started showing. One possible idea is that we humans have moved so far from the original food chain that our bodies can no longer interpret its own signals when hormones are at an all time high. If your food aversions are actually limiting your food intake - the last thing you want when growing a baby inside you - look for substitutes for any of the healthy foods that have suddenly fallen off the menu. Also talk to your GP to see if any medication can be prescribed that might help your nausea.
Overall, don't be afraid to indulge a little of your cravings; you may never have such monstrous hunger ever again, so may as well get something out of it. However try and keep your diet as balanced as possible, and if anything gets stranger even than deep-fried chocolate, always check with your local expert.
What's been your most insane pregnancy craving or, if you're a DH, friend or birth partner, what was the most ghastly thing you've seen gobbled down by a mother-to-be? Let us know in the comments, or share your stories with us over at our Facebook page, on Twitter or through Google+.