Cravings During Pregnancy
We all know this situation (and some of us have been in it, one way or another!):
At some ridiculous hour of the morning, your eyes snap open and all you can think about is “It”: the food item or combination of food items you have got to have, right now. You look over at your spouse, dead to the world after a rough day at work and a rougher day riding your mood swings and think nah, that’d be mean. You can tough it out. Sure you can. Just close your eyes and go back to sleep. Maybe roll over first – oh, no, that was a mistake. Roll the other way. Darn it! Twisted up in the sheets again and you can’t reach your feet to untangle them!
“Honey?” you say very quietly – then you prod the sleeper sharply in the back. “Honey, I need help – I’m stuck!” You smile chirpily into the bleary, red-rimmed eyes and ignore the mumbled “Waszzzitnblrg?”
“Sweetie, I’m stuck again. Can you get the sheets off my feet? You know I can’t sleep with my feet tied up,” and, before you have a chance to stop them, the words come out: “And since you’re up, can you go get me some Ben and Jerry’s Pumpkin Cheesecake ice cream, an order of General Tso’s Chicken from that Chinese place over by the arena – they’re open for another twenty minutes so call it in before you leave – and a pound of deep-fried pickles from that 24-hour diner over by the wrecking yard? It’s after midnight, so they just changed the oil. Don’t get it if they didn’t change the oil – I can’t stand the stink.”
Pregnancy food cravings are legend – and some are legendary – but nobody really knows why they happen. Sure, theories abound, largely to do with hormone fluxes and nutritional deficiencies, but what few studies there have been on the matter largely discount them. The only food craving that held up were the cravings for fatty foods, salty foods, and an insatiable craving for sweets.
Eating high-fat foods causes the body to produce endorphins, the so-called “feel good” hormone that attaches to the opioid receptors in the brain. In simpler terms, high-fat food rewards us with a rush of hormone that acts on the brain much like opium, causing us to enter a relaxed, almost dreamy state that is, yes, addictive. We get the same rush from exercising, which is why some people get addicted to working out or jogging or running, etc, and sleeping (which explains why some people never get out of bed).
The most common food item craved (and not just during pregnancy!) is chocolate. This could be explained by the amino acid Phenylalanine which controls the rate at which endorphins are released. Chocolate is also rich in iron – women are particularly prone to iron deficiency anaemia, so the sugar and caffeine plus the iron likely acts as a pick-me-up, making them feel more alert and energized.
During pregnancy, the body’s volume of fluid increases considerably, which is why pregnant women need a higher sodium intake, as insufficient sodium levels (as well as overdosing in sodium) can affect the developing baby’s kidney structure. Many women misguidedly cut back sodium drastically and their body could be trying to combat that by making them constantly crave chips or salted toffee, or having them put soya sauce on everything.
A pregnant woman experiencing an insatiable desire for sweets – things like putting double sugar in her tea when she normally drinks it black or waking up to the evidence of a sleep-state binge – needs to get her blood sugar checked. Ladies who actually develop gestational diabetes very often develop a wild appetite for sweets and this needs to be checked out as diabetes during pregnancy can be very dangerous for both mother and child. Among the least of the concerns: imagine trying to birth a baby weighing ten pounds plus! Some babies born to diabetic mothers tipped the scales at fifteen pounds or more!
One dangerous symptom is the craving for unnatural food items, of which chalk, dirt, and cigarette butts are the most common. Should this happen, consult your attending physician immediately and naturally you never, everindulge those cravings.
The real problem with food cravings is not so much the food – it’s how much you’re eating. Yes, you are eating for two, but that doesn’t mean you double up on your plate: for the first half of your pregnancy, the other ‘you’ you’re eating for is no larger than a lemon! You only need an extra 300 calories per day over a normal, healthy, balanced diet to accommodate the demands of the growing baby. Once you start breastfeeding, you’ll need an extra 500 calories per day – and that’s still basically adding a single moderately-sized meal to your menu, not an all-day buffet!
During your pregnancy, the odds are two to one that you’ll get hit with a food craving or other. Go ahead and indulge in a moderate, controlled fashion – it’ll life your spirits and there’s no law that says a pregnancy diet has to be all rabbit food and crunchy grains!