A pregnant woman enjoying her snacks while sitting on the couch.

Why Do Pregnant Women Crave Pickles and Ice Cream? There’s a Science to It

Why Am I Hungry When Pregnant?

Oh the pregnancy cravings: chocolate, sour skittles, pudding pops, pickles, and peanut butter on a stick. Mysterious and delicious, even with all our technological breakthroughs and medical advancements, scientists still don’t know the root cause of the 3:00 AM ice cream and pickle run.

Here are interesting things you might have not known about these cravings:

Pregnancy Cravings and Lifestyle

Food cravings are not all created equal. Your culture can influence the type of food cravings you have. For example: although mangoes are not a common craving in the U.S., they are quite popular among pregnant women in Tasmania. Taking regional and seasonal factors into play, the foods a woman is used to in her daily life greatly influence the cravings she will have while pregnant. Similarly, if all your life you heard that pregnant women crave pickles, you may be predisposed to craving pickles.

Pregnancy Cravings and Hormones

Fat cells secrete a hormone called leptin. Leptin plays a major role in appetite and is responsible for providing the feeling of satisfaction during a meal. However, you may become resistant to the hormone. Thus, the normal interaction of leptin with receptors located in the hypothalamus is interrupted and no amount of goodies may feel like enough.

Neuropeptide Y (NPY) is a very powerful appetite stimulant. Produced in the hypothalamus, you can blame this hormone for the need to snack. With leptin not working as it should, NPY binds to cannabinoid receptors and a full cookie jar may become a wasteland.

Leptin plays a major role in appetite and is responsible for providing the feeling of satisfaction during a meal.

Earliest Recorded History of Cravings

In the 2nd century AD, Soranus, a Greek doctor, wrote about gynecology. His work is still used for research today. He understood the three stages of pregnancy and observed one of the earliest recorded phenomena of food cravings.

Pregnant woman standing in front of a refrigerator.

Psychology and Genetics

Our DNA determines how our taste buds register flavors. Genetics plays a role in how our brain registers things that are bitter or sweet. Still, some scientists believe that cravings are psychological. Usually, if the body is protein deficient or craves salt, anything will do. But everything is not created equal when it comes to pregnancy cravings. For example, pickles may be the only food that can resolve a salt craving. Chips, beef jerky, popcorn, etc. just won’t do.

Whether you are craving every weird food combination under the sun or just can’t get enough beef jerky, pregnancy cravings are a normal part of childbirth. While there are many factors at play as long as you try to balance certain cravings and still remember to maintain a mostly healthy diet, keep the pickles and Cheetos coming!

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