What are food aversions, and why does appetite change during pregnancy?
A food aversion is an intense dislike of a specific food, together with unpleasant physical symptoms when you see or smell a particular food. These reactions are usually triggered by emotions associated with food rather than the food itself. You might also experience food cravings (an intense urge to eat a specific food). While these appetite changes are quite common, they can make healthy eating during pregnancy a challenge.
Is it normal for my appetite to change during pregnancy?
Food aversions are common, and around 6 in 10 people experience a food aversion while pregnant.
When are food aversions likely to start and end?
For this reason, if you've gone off certain foods that are important for your diet, you can try again later in your pregnancy to see if the aversion has passed. If your nausea prevents you from getting enough nutrition, or you are vomiting, not able to keep food or fluids down or losing weight, it's time to see your doctor.
What food aversions are common?
Common food aversions include:
What causes food aversions?
While the cause of food aversions during pregnancy isn't clear, hormonal changes could affect the food you enjoy, particularly early in your pregnancy. For example, human gonadotropin (also known as hCG) is a hormone produced during pregnancy. It can cause feelings of nausea, appetite changes and food aversion. Pregnancy can also cause a greater sensitivity to smell and taste, which can influence the foods you prefer to eat.
More research is needed to better understand why food cravings and aversions occur. Some reasons may include hormonal balance or protecting the unborn baby from harmful substances and/or nutritional deficiencies. This is to encourage good nutrition and growth in the pregnancy.
How can I eat well and have a healthy diet?
A healthy diet is important for both you and your baby. Eating for 2 during pregnancy is a myth. It is the quality not quantity of food that matters, and there is no need to eat twice as much. It is the quality not the quantity of food that matters most. Your diet should include a variety of the five food groups:
- vegetables and legumes
- breads and cereals
- milk, yoghurt and cheese
- meat, poultry, fish and alternatives
During pregnancy, your body also needs plenty of water (8 to 10 glasses each day). You will also need extra vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to help your baby develop, including these:
- Folate (Folic acid) helps build your baby’s brain cells and prevents risk of the baby being born with a birth defect of the brain and/or spinal cord. This is especially important in the early stages of pregnancy. Folate-rich foods include green leafy vegetables, broccoli, legumes, oranges, avocado, or fortified breads and cereals.
- Iodine is also important for your baby’s growth and development. Choose foods that are sources of iodine, such as low-fat milk products, eggs, cooked fish and seafood. Foods that contain seaweed, such as sushi, are also a good source of iodine, but if you’re pregnant only eat sushi without raw fish, cold meat or egg, and that is freshly prepared. If you add salt to your food or in cooking, choose iodised salt. If you have a thyroid condition, seek advice from your doctor before taking an iodine supplement.
- Iron-rich foods are recommended during pregnancy. These include red meat, poultry, tofu, and iron-fortified cereals. Eating foods high in vitamin C such as oranges, kiwi fruit, capsicum and broccoli can help iron absorption. Do not take an iron supplement during pregnancy without first checking with your doctor. Too much iron can pose health risks to you and your baby. A blood test will help your doctor know if you need to take iron tablets.
If you develop an aversion to meat or another essential food, consider how you might substitute these for alternatives. For example, substitute meat for nuts.
It is also important to limit foods containing:
- saturated fats (biscuits, cakes, pies, butter and cream)
- added salt (processed meats, pickled fish, fast foods)
- added sugars (confectionary, sugar sweetened soft drinks, fruit juice and cordial)
Alcohol is not safe for developing babies, and not drinking alcohol is the safest option while you’re pregnant.
There are also certain foods you should avoid during pregnancy, so ask your doctor or maternal health nurse for more information.
Appetite changes during pregnancy are unlikely to harm you or your baby or significantly compromise your nutrition. If you are not sure which foods are most important for your diet, or you have no appetite for foods containing important nutrients, seek advice.
More information on changes in appetite
For more advice on food aversions or appetite loss in pregnancy speak to your:
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Last reviewed: July 2022