What's the Deal With All Those Food Aversions in Pregnancy?
Do you shudder at the passing whiff of coffee? Does the tiniest taste of garlic make you gag? Welcome to life with food aversions! Don’t be surprised if you’re suddenly turned off by one or more foods after learning you’re expecting. It’s a common phenomenon in pregnancy, and one that can get in the way of your usual dining habits. But while many people openly share their funniest, craziest, most random pregnancy cravings, few talk about the foods they absolutely can’t stand during those nine+ months of eating for two. So what’s the deal with pregnancy food aversions, when do they start and how can you cope? Read on for the full lowdown.
In this article:
What is a food aversion?
When do food aversions start in pregnancy?
What causes pregnancy food aversions?
What are the most common pregnancy food aversions?
How to cope with food aversions during pregnancy
When do food aversions stop in pregnancy?
When to see your doctor about pregnancy food aversions
Simply put, a food aversion is an “intense dislike” of a specific food, says Abby Eblen, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist at the Nashville Fertility Center. “It could even be foods that you previously desired and loved,” adds Christine Greves, MD, an ob-gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies in Orlando. So if you’re quite suddenly unable to stomach the mere thought of onions or eggs or meat, know that this is par for the course and most likely a temporary affliction.
Wondering how common food aversions are during pregnancy? One study found that approximately 69 percent of pregnant people were turned off by a certain food. What’s more, don’t be surprised if you experience both food aversions and intense cravings during your pregnancy. (Research estimates that 50 to 90 percent of moms-to-be get the occasional—or frequent—must-have-it hankering for specific foods!)
Wondering if you’re going to wake up tomorrow unable to sip your beloved java? If food aversions haven’t kicked into gear early on in the journey, you may get off scot free (fingers crossed!). “A lot of times, they start in the first trimester; that’s when there are hormonal changes resulting in nausea and vomiting, which could possibly lead to food aversions,” explains Greves.
Eblen adds that while aversions can appear as early as two to four weeks after fertilization, they’re often most intense during the second trimester—so maybe plan to avoid those office potluck lunches until you’re a bit further along.
Experts have various theories about why pregnancy food aversions happen. “There are the hormonal changes with the increase in hCG that result in nausea and vomiting. However, there are other hypotheses as well,” says Greves. For example, the maternal-embryo protection hypothesis theorizes that a pregnant person’s body “naturally evolves to protect the fetus from possible pathogens or toxins,” she says. The gestational metabolic syndrome avoidance hypothesis, on the other hand, suggests that pregnant people avoid eating foods that could increase their chances of developing diabetes or preeclampsia.
All that said, food aversions may simply be related to the changes in olfaction (smell) and taste that occur in pregnancy. Eblen notes that a genetic predisposition and sensitivity to odors may each play a part too. “Increased sensitivity to odors occurs in up to 60 to 90 percent of pregnant women with food aversions,” she adds. Many aromas that are pleasant to you when you’re not pregnant change when you’re pregnant. The odor of smoke and meat tends to be more unpleasant during pregnancy. Conversely, the scent of fruit tends to be even more pleasant during pregnancy.
Greves says that food aversions vary from person to person, but often have strong flavors or smells. Sherry Ross, women’s sexual health expert, says that the most common food aversions reported by patients include:
- Spicy foods
- Greasy, fried foods
- Salty foods
That said, you may find yourself grossed out by something seemingly innocuous.
“If your body is telling you to avoid something, listen to it,” advises Greves. “When pregnant, it’s best to listen to your body whether it’s about avoiding food or resting. Just find something that doesn’t disgust you.”
If a food aversion triggers nausea and vomiting, your doctor may be able to prescribe medication to help decrease these symptoms, says Eblen. Finally, she suggests having a container with a pleasant-smelling essential oil on hand to help curb sudden symptoms related to a specific smell or food aversion.
The good news? Eblen says that food aversions typically fade some time in the third trimester. It really depends on the person, though. Sometimes, an aversion can last throughout an entire pregnancy and beyond. Greves recounts that in her own pregnancy, she couldn’t stand the smell or taste of hazelnut hot chocolate. To this day, she still doesn’t like this particular treat.
Finding food that doesn’t make you feel sick sounds simple enough, but it can be easier said than done—especially if you’re battling morning sickness or have other nutritional limitations.
Greves says that if you’re having trouble holding down food or sticking to a healthy, balanced diet, you should tell your doctor. They’ll work with you on strategies to make sure you and baby are getting the calories and nutrients you both need.
Experiencing a food aversion in pregnancy is no big deal. (Of course, if you’re frequently exposed to that ingredient, it may feel like a daily struggle!) Try to find foods that settle your stomach, fuel your body and please your taste buds. You’ll hopefully be able to eat all your former favorites soon enough.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.
Abby Eblen, MD, is a reproductive endocrinologist at the Nashville Fertility Center. She is a native of Tennessee and attended the University of Tennessee Center for the Health Sciences where she received her medical degree.
Christine Greves, MD, is a board-certified ob-gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies in Orlando. She earned her medical degree from the University of South Florida College of Medicine
Sherry Ross, MD, is an ob-gyn and women’s sexual health expert, and the author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women's Intimate Health. Period. and She-ology the She-quel: Let's Continue the Conversation.
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