Food cravings during pregnancy are well documented and extremely common. In some cases they can be entirely random, but mostly when we crave certain foods, it is for a reason.
Cravings are almost always our body’s way of asking for certain vitamins and minerals we may be lacking and as such, these can become heightened during pregnancy to ensure that the growing baby is getting the nutrients it needs.
Health and fitness app Lifesum (www.lifesum.co.uk) recently polled its users to find out what ladies most commonly craved while pregnant. Lovisa Nilsson, Lifesum’s in-house nutrition and fitness expert, explains what the underlying cause of these cravings may be:
When women crave non-food items during pregnancy, they could be suffering from a condition called Pica
This might seem odd but it’s more common than you would think and 14% of Lifesum users polled said they craved coal. “When women crave non-food items during pregnancy, they could be suffering from a condition called Pica,” says Lovisa. “The reason that women suffer from Pica is unknown, however it could be that their iron levels are low as coal is rich in this mineral, for example; when women crave chalk it is often because they need calcium to support the skeletal growth of the baby.”
Salty foods such as crisps and gherkins were the most commonly desired, with 24% of users noting it as a craving, but this could have just as much to do with comfort as craving.
“Craving salty foods, such as crisps or pickles, could mean that you’re low in sodium, but more often than not it can just be that you are desiring the taste of salty food. High levels of sodium can have negative effects on health, such as raising blood pressure, and so this is not a craving that you should succumb to too often,” says Lovisa. “Another common reason we reach for the salt is that we are dehydrated so ensure you are drinking a sufficient amount of water.”
The tastebuds become more sensitive during pregnancy (which is why women can often develop an aversion to certain foods and also explains why indulgent foods become more tempting!), but a craving for ice-cream or any other dairy product can indicate low levels of calcium.
Ice cream is both light, cooling and provides fast energy
“High levels of calcium are needed for the baby to remain healthy as it grows. As it can be difficult for women to stomach the strong smell of cheese or even milk during pregnancy, they’ll often turn to ice-cream for their calcium fix,” explains Lovisa. “Additionally, pregnant women usually don’t want heavy cooked food and with its high fat and sugar content, ice cream is both light, cooling and provides fast energy.”
Like ice-cream, chocolate is high in empty calories which as we said provide fast energy, so it’s no surprise that 12% of Lifesum users claimed that they craved the sweet stuff during pregnancy. However, though chocolate may be a comfort food, this craving could also mean something else.
“Chocolate is rich in vitamin B so women who are lacking B vitamins sometimes crave it, studies however have shown that you can get the same goodness from flaxseed oil, which is a healthier alternative even though it is probably the less tempting option! Craving sugary foods or sweets could also be caused by a drop in blood sugar.”
19% of users reported a craving for citrus fruits or sour foods and there is a simple reason why. “Women crave sour or spicy foods during pregnancy because of a change in the tastebuds and they often like to shock to them, which is why they reach out for tangy citrus fruits or sour sweets.”
“Many women will crave red meat when pregnant as it is a source of protein and iron, both of which they can often be lacking.” Just like Phoebe in friends, one user polled claimed to crave red meat despite being actually being a vegetarian!
Lifesum also asked the same ladies how they managed to shift their post-baby weight. All of the new and recent mothers stressed that they were careful not to exert themselves when getting back into an exercise routine, which is exactly what Lovisa advises.
“If you had an uncomplicated pregnancy you can start with some gentle exercise, building up the intensity gradually, as soon as you feel up to it but it is generally best to wait until your post-natal check (usually at about 6 weeks) before taking up anything too strenuous. However, if you have had a caesarean or any other complications, it is not advised to partake in any postpartum exercise whatsoever for the first 6 weeks at least.”
Walking is a great way to get your blood pumping and ease your body back into exercise
With this in mind, it isn’t surprising that 44% of users polled claimed that walking was the best way to shed the pounds. “Walking is a great way to get your blood pumping and ease your body back into exercise,” says Lovisa. “You can gradually increase your pace as your fitness levels rise and not only is it something you can do with your baby in tow, the added weight of the pushchair will provide extra resistance.”
Another brilliant post pregnancy workout is swimming and 18% of Lifesum users will attest to this. Again though, it is important that you wait until after your postnatal check (and have also had 7 days free of postnatal bleeding or lochia) to avoid infection.
“It will come as no surprise that the stomach muscles will need strengthening after carrying a baby, and swimming is a brilliant way to gently tone up the core muscles,” Lovisa continues. Some women can develop what is called diastasis recti, a gap in the abdominal muscles, as the tummy expands to accommodate the growing baby. This gap can take 6-8 weeks to close up and exercising the stomach muscles before this can cause injury to them.
As the joints can be affected by hormones for up to sixth months after giving birth high impact cardio such as running should be avoided initially, making swimming a fantastic alternative.
Finally, 6% of those polled used yoga as an effective form of weight loss but yoga can have other benefits to a new mother. “Aside from the physical benefits, the calming and meditative practice of yoga is ideal,” adds Lovisa. “New mums are under a lot of stress and at a time when the hormones are erratic, yoga can be a great way to restore balance.”
The most important thing is that you don’t overdo it and remember that everyone recovers at a different pace.