Food cravings

■ 1st trimester

You may not have had the classic pickles-and-ice-cream craving. But chances are you've had a strong desire for certain types of food during your pregnancy. Most expectant mothers do experience food cravings, which are likely caused by pregnancy hormones.

You may wonder if a food craving is a signal from your body that you need the nutrients in that food. But such body signals are unreliable. A craving for ice cream doesn't mean your body needs the saturated fat. And even if you're not in the mood for citrus fruits, it doesn't mean you don't need vitamin C.

Most food cravings disappear or weaken by the fourth month of pregnancy. Cravings that last longer may be a sign of iron deficiency and the anemia that results.

■ Prevention and self-care for food cravings

As long as you're eating a healthy diet and getting the nutrients you need, you don't have to worry about changes in your food tastes. It's OK to indulge occasionally. However, try not to use your cravings as an excuse for overeating. You can respond to cravings without compromising your own or your baby's nutritional needs.

Try to satisfy your food urges without filling up on empty calories. For example, if you crave chocolate, choose chocolate frozen yogurt rather than ice cream or a frozen chocolate bar, or if you crave sweets, try trail mix instead of candy. If you have a craving for a food that you know isn't the best choice, try diverting your attention by taking a walk, reading a good book or playing a computer game. Usually an exercise-related distraction is most successful.

■ When to seek medical help for food cravings

Rarely, some pregnant women have a craving for unusual, inedible and possibly harmful substances. These may include items such as clay, laundry starch, dirt, baking soda, ice chips or frost from the freezer, ashes or road salt. Such uncommon cravings result from a disorder known as pica. It can be dangerous and may be caused by an iron deficiency. If you experience a craving to eat something that isn't food, report it to your health care provider.

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