Eating Smart Over Holidays Can Quell Pregnancy Cravings

The food cravings and rejections expectant mothers often feel can be especially difficult to manage during the holiday season.

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Pregnant mom eating
Jane Paige (Carolina Parent contributing writer)

For Janet Weaver of Chapel Hill, it was always about the ice cream. Day or night, she couldn’t get enough of the cold treat while pregnant with her second child. But, it had been completely different when expecting her first daughter – nothing on her plate was ever appealing during the entire nine months.

Like many expectant mothers, Weaver experienced both the well-known cravings and food turn-offs common during pregnancy. While no one really knows exactly why some women yearn or reject certain foods, it is a reality for the majority of new moms, experts agree.

“Many people believe the strong hormone changes of pregnancy often cause food cravings or food rejections,” says Dr. Karen Tapp, a WakeMed faculty physician in obstetrics and gynecology. “There are a lot of different theories, but there is not a lot of research into the topic.”

Morning sickness is common for many women during the first trimester of pregnancy, Tapp says. Higher levels of progesterone can intensify the sense of smell, often helping to increase the queasy stomach feelings.

Food cravings often come during the second or third trimester, she says. Some theories speculate that women may crave some nutrients they are lacking, such as salt, but there are no definite findings. Tapp says she believes societal issues also may play a role in food cravings for some women while pregnant.

Women often deprive themselves of many foods when they are not pregnant, Tapp says. Now, since they are “eating for two,” they may decide to splurge with those extra French fries, chocolate or ice cream. Unfortunately, it is still really not a good idea, she says.

"While it is true that your nutrient needs increase during pregnancy, the energy requirements only increase about 200 calories per day for the second and third trimesters of pregnancy,” she says. “In other words, you don’t need all those additional calories that come from foods such as ice cream or candy.”

Managing Cravings Over Holidays

Food cravings and rejections can be especially difficult to manage during the holiday season, says Cathie Ostrowski, a local registered dietitian. A giant plate of Christmas cookies can be especially appealing, while a platter of Thanksgiving stuffing with gravy can be a giant turnoff for some expectant moms.

Eating, or not eating during the holidays is really just a matter of moderation, according to Ostrowski, who craved meatballs while pregnant with her second child.

“For most women, it is fine under normal circumstances to give in to those food cravings some, but only in small portions,” she says. “A small ice cream cone can be fine, but don’t just sit down and eat the whole carton.”

At holiday parties, avoid camping out beside those giant cookie and cake trays, selecting instead some fruits and vegetables, Ostrowski says.

Gaining a lot of weight during pregnancy will simply mean more weight to lose after the baby is born. Tapp advises her patients in a normal pregnancy to gain between 25 and 35 pounds.

“Women should keep an eye on their weight while also developing a nutritious, well-balanced eating plan while pregnant,” she says.

Quelling Queasiness

For pregnant women who are not feeling well, the holidays can be especially challenging, with big feasts and parties part of the seasonal celebration.

To help ease a queasy stomach, Ostrowski advises women to nibble on dry foods, like crackers, before getting out of bed in the morning. Sipping lemonade also may help.

“Eating small, frequent meals during the day is certainly easier than sitting down to a large dinner with all the holiday trimmings,” she says. “No one wants to look at large amounts of food when they don’t feel good.”

For the majority of women, craving or rejecting certain foods are not serious side-effects of pregnancy. However, some women may develop conditions that require medical attention, experts agree.

Some women develop pica cravings during pregnancy, according to Tapp. Pica is the practice of craving substances with little or no nutritional value such as dirt, clay, ice or toilet paper.

Experts speculate that pica cravings are the body’s attempt to obtain vitamins or minerals that are missing from normal food consumption, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Sometimes these cravings may be related to underlying illnesses.

“Eating these substances can be potentially harmful to both you and your baby,” Tapp says. “It is important to tell your doctor about these cravings and to get the needed treatment.”

Weaver's food cravings were normal, with ice cream topping the list. Any flavor would do just fine, any time of the day or night, she admits.

“I didn’t have any cravings with my first daughter and had trouble even eating anything some of the time,” she says. “But I couldn’t get enough ice cream the second time around.”

Now, with two healthy daughters, Weaver admits she still has a bit of a sweet tooth for ice cream, but she knows moderation is the best rule.

“I watch carefully what my girls eat and try to push the fruits and vegetables for them and for myself,” she says.

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