Appetite changes and food aversions during pregnancy


Appetite changes and feelings of nausea or morning sickness are well-known features of pregnancy. Sometimes women will have food cravings, and some women will experience a food aversion — a strong dislike of certain foods. While these appetite changes might be quite common, they can make healthy eating during pregnancy a challenge.

Yes, it is normal to experience a loss of appetite or a change in food preferences during pregnancy, and these may play a part in how much your weight changes during pregnancy.

Research shows that around 6 in 10 women experience a food aversion while pregnant.

The reasons for these changes are still unknown, but some experts suggest there is a range of hormonal, psychological or cultural causes.

What is the difference between low appetite and food aversion?

While food aversions involve a strong dislike of a specific food or foods, low appetite can occur as a result of a more generalised feeling of nausea that is sometimes also associated with vomiting.

When are food aversions likely to start and end?

Low appetite resulting from generalised nausea can take hold at any time of day (it’s not necessarily ‘morning sickness‘) and tends to peak between week 6 and week 14 of pregnancy. Food aversions are more likely to come and go, but generally settle down as the pregnancy progresses.

For this reason, if you’ve gone off a particular food that is important for your diet, you can always check back in a couple of weeks and your aversion may have passed. On the other hand, if your nausea is preventing you from getting enough nutrition, or if you are vomiting and not able to keep fluids down or if you are losing weight, it’s time to see your doctor.

What food aversions are common?

Common food aversions include:

  • alcohol
  • coffee / tea
  • meat
  • fatty food
  • spicy food
  • eggs

Bland and sweet foods are generally preferred by pregnant women with nausea during pregnancy over flavoursome and strongly spiced foods.

What causes food aversions?

While the cause of food aversions during pregnancy isn’t clear, hormonal changes could affect the food you find appealing, particularly early in your pregnancy. For example, gonadotropin (also known as hCG) is a hormone produced during pregnancy. It is known for causing feelings of nausea, appetite changes and food aversion. Pregnancy can also cause a greater sensitivity to smell and taste, which can have an effect on the foods you prefer to eat.

How to cope with food aversions?

Eating the foods you enjoy, and avoiding foods you don’t feel like eating, is generally a good approach in pregnancy so long as it’s done in moderation. If the foods you don’t have an appetite for include meat or a particular vegetable, consider how you might substitute these for other alternatives. For example, substitute meat for nuts.

Another option is to ‘disguise’ leafy green vegetables by blending them into smoothies with fruit. This way, you get the same nutrients and essential vitamins despite your changing food preferences.

Remember that generally, appetite changes during pregnancy are unlikely to harm you or your baby or significantly compromise your nutrition. If you are unsure about which foods are most important for your diet, or you have no appetite for foods containing important nutrients, seek advice.

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