Are Cravings and Morning Sickness Derailing Your Nutrition During Pregnancy?

September 18, 2015

Eating a nutritious and varied diet is extremely important during pregnancy, and our post “Nutrition During Pregnancy” gave basic nutritional guidelines about what to eat while you are pregnant.  There are a few scenarios, like experiencing cravings for certain foods and experiencing morning sickness, which can complicate things.  There’s no need to worry, though.  You can overcome these challenges!

How should I handle cravings?

Food cravings are natural and can be very interesting.  Cravings are often for sweet or salty foods, but they can also be for spicy, fatty, or sour foods.  The best way to handle food cravings is to accept them and enjoy a small amount of whatever food you are craving.

Nobody knows exactly why cravings occur during pregnancy, but they may have to do with changing sensitivities to smells and tastes or the body’s need for extra calories.  Some cravings may even signal nutritional deficiencies.  Craving red meat and ice, for example, might be associated with iron deficiency, and craving chocolate might indicate that you need more magnesium or B vitamins.  Focus on balancing the foods you crave with a nutritious diet, and ask your doctor about any concerns you have.

Occasionally some women crave very unusual non-food items like dirt, chalk, or toothpaste.  This rare condition is called pica and usually indicates mineral deficiencies in the body.  If you experience pica, call your doctor and do not give in to non-food cravings.

What should I eat when I have morning sickness?

Despite its name, morning sickness can actually occur at any time of day.  Morning sickness is thought to be partially caused by the rapid hormonal changes taking place inside your body, but fluctuating glucose levels and a heightened sense of smell during pregnancy may also play a role.   Morning sickness can be triggered by an empty stomach, but instead of feeling hungry, you may feel nauseated or you may vomit.  Then again, you may feel nauseated on a full stomach too.

While every woman has a different experience, these general tips are useful:

  • Eat small, frequent meals.  Try not to go without eating for more than three or four hours during the day.
  • You may want to avoid foods that have strong scents (such as onion or garlic).
  • It may help to have someone else prepare the food (a great reason to have your husband or partner make dinner!).
  • Some women find they need to avoid spicy and greasy foods.
  • In general, foods that are low in fat and high in carbohydrates (crackers, popcorn, toast) help with nausea.
  • Some women find they need to include a source of protein with each meal, especially at breakfast.
  • Morning sickness is different for everybody, so experiment with these suggestions and see what works best for you!

When most foods are making you feel nauseated or causing you to vomit, eat whatever sounds good to you.  If you can’t bring yourself to eat food, the most important thing is that you stay well hydrated. Drink juice, tea, water, soy milk, or miso broth.  You may not be able to drink large quantities of liquid at one time, but try to take one sip every 10-15 minutes or chew on ice chips.  You can also try lemon juice, lemon drops, vitamin B-6, ginger, or half of a Unisom tablet.  Then resume a balanced, nutritious diet when you can.  If none of these ideas help or you are persistently vomiting, call your doctor.

Although experiencing food cravings and morning sickness can make it harder to maintain a nutritious diet during pregnancy, you can definitely still do it.  Variety of food and consistency in eating are key, so make sure to eat a wide range of healthy foods that you like every few hours, and talk to your doctor about any problems that come up.  Happy eating!