All About You
While your fetus no longer looks like frogspawn, you're may be feeling pretty green around the gills this week. That's because the placenta—that glorious, ruby red organ that is a lifeline to your baby—is growing rapidly and its cells are releasing large amounts of the pregnancy hormone (hCG) into your bloodstream. Even if you don't know it, you have a love-hate relationship with hCG. The rise in hCG levels is a sign of a healthy pregnancy, but it's also what's making you cringe at the smell of your mother-in-law's perfume or clutch your stomach every time you pass a food court. Along with the nausea, mood swings, frequent trips to the bathroom, and extreme fatigue are still a fact of life. (Growing an entire human being in your body is exhausting!) If you're not feeling these symptoms acutely, no worries! Every woman's body responds to pregnancy differently and you may be one of the lucky ones who breezes through the first three months.
This Week: Cravings and Other Pregnancy Symptoms
If a greasy cheeseburger or a jar of pickles never appealed to you before pregnancy, you might be surprised to be craving them now. Plenty of theories exist about why pregnancy cravings happen, but there's still no conclusive reason.
Filling a Nutritional Need
One prevailing theory explains that pregnancy cravings may be the body's way of getting the nutrients it needs. Say you're craving a steak; maybe your body lacks protein. And ice cream? Your body might need more calcium to support bones, which have added strain as your pregnancy progresses. "When you have a craving it's usually based on some sort of nutritional need or nutritional balance," says Dr. William Camann, MD, author of Easy Labor: Every Woman's Guide to Choosing Less Pain and More Joy During Childbirth.
Shunning Certain Foods
The flip side of cravings is food aversions. In other words, foods you loved before pregnancy may be repulsive to you now. Dr. Camann believes the nutritional need theory may also explain food aversions. You need a healthy balance of foods and a varied diet to provide your body and your growing baby the nutrients they need; food aversions may be a way for your body to ensure that happens. If you craved junk foods before your pregnancy, you may turn your nose up to them now. For example, some chocolate lovers find themselves repulsed by the idea of eating chocolate once pregnant.
The Smell Factor
Part of your food aversion may stem from your increased nose power. Pregnancy hormones kick your sense of smell into high gear. If a food has an overwhelming odor—say, garlic-laced chicken—your stomach may lead you to shun that food. On the other hand, pleasing smells—or even the lack of an odor (think saltines)—can make these foods your new comfort.
While researchers don't know why pregnant women crave certain foods, they do know that women share some common favorite flavors.
- Salt: Pickles, saltines, potato chips—they're all packed with salt and can be oh-so-gratifying during pregnancy. Dr. Camann points out that with your body's increased blood volume during pregnancy, your body may need additional sodium to pump up blood production.
- Sour: Pickles, lemons, and fruits have tart flavors that may ward off morning sickness and ensure that you eat enough fruits to provide nutrients for your growing baby-to-be.
- Bitter: Early in your pregnancy you may find that you have an aversion to bitter tastes. Researchers theorize that this may have evolutionary origins. Poisonous foods often have bitter flavors, so if you can't stand the taste, you may avoid harm.
Cravings are usually not a problem during pregnancy—in fact, they can be amusing and maybe a fine excuse to send your partner scrambling for ice cream at midnight.
Though uncommon, some women experience unusual, even bizarre yearnings called pica cravings. Women with this condition long to eat non-food substances like sand, dirt, bleach, even cigarettes. Doctors still don't know why women would have these kind of cravings. Dr. Camann says there's speculation that women's bodies may be trying to supplement certain nutritional needs, but no one knows for sure. These cravings can be dangerous to you and your unborn baby if you act on them. If you find yourself yearning to munch on the sandbox, let your healthcare provider know; he or she may refer you to a specialist who can help you sort out these dangerous desires.