Glengarry Private Hospital
Part of Ramsay Health Care

Why do pregnant women get food cravings

From oranges to dirt, pregnant women can have all sorts of weird and wonderful food cravings.

We’ve all heard the stories about pregnancy cravings — from a one-track obsession with a single type of food such as strawberries or olives to unusual combinations like ice cream with hot chips. Because these cravings often come out of the blue, they can seem strange, even to the mother-to-be.

At least half of all women have food cravings during their pregnancy and it usually peaks in the second trimester. You may have even gone from feeling sick and not being able to keep food down, to having an insatiable appetite for weird and wonderful things at all times of day and night.


Where do these cravings come from?

We aren’t 100 per cent sure why cravings happen. It has often been said that cravings indicate nutrients are missing from your diet, but there is simply not enough evidence to say this is the case. Some theories suggest it is due to changing hormones or it could even be psychological. Cravings may also result from simple exhaustion; the business of growing a human is tiring and it’s not unusual to seek out sweet or comforting foods to get an injection of energy.

Food cravings are natural. Even the seemingly strange combinations. Most women lean towards sweet rather than savoury, but interestingly those who favour savoury are less likely to experience food cravings outside of pregnancy.
Nutritional needs during pregnancy
In the first trimester, nutritional needs are the same as pre-pregnancy. This increases slightly during the second and third trimester, but only by as little as two to three hundred calories.

To give you an idea, 200 calories is approximately:
• 1/2 to 3/4 of an avocado
• 50g cheddar cheese
• 2 medium bananas
• 28 almonds
• 2 Tim Tams
• 300ml full fat milk
• 1 cup cooked pasta
• 2 ½ crumpets

While it is good to understand what you are eating and how much weight you can expect to put on, don’t worry excessively. This is especially important if you’re struggling to keep food and fluids down because of morning sickness [link to the midwives’ morning sickness blog]. The best advice is to listen to your body and focus on foods that are nutritious.


Unusual cravings: what is pica?

Pica is a craving for inedible materials. This includes non-foods such as dirt, clay, toothpaste and even sponges, as well as ‘inedible’ variations of food like ice cubes and dried pasta.

This condition usually presents in pregnant women, children and people with learning disabilities, with pregnant women making up around 20 per cent of cases. While this is not abnormal, it doesn’t mean it’s good for the mother or baby. It may cause a bowel obstruction, or the material may contain toxic substances, bacteria or parasites.

If you suspect you have pica, don’t panic. But you do need to see your doctor to solve the underlying cause and to check the condition isn’t causing harm to yourself and your baby.

About the Author

Dr Philip Rowlands is a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecological Surgeon who has delivered more than 10,000 babies in Australia and the UK. To book in with Dr Rowlands, visit his website at or call his rooms on (08) 9448 6064. Glengarry Private Hospital is a 110-bed private hospital in Perth’s northern suburbs. Call us on (08) 9447 0111 to find out more.