Understanding Food Aversions in Pregnancy and What You Can Do

Understanding Food Aversions in Pregnancy and What You Can Do

pregnancyUpdated March 6, 2023

by Nicole Avena, Ph. D.

Associate Professor of Neuroscience

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You may have heard of it before, experienced it yourself, or been around a mama-to-be with strict food preferences to prevent feelings of sickness, also known as pregnancy food aversion. Food aversion can be described as an intense dislike of a specific food caused by the look, smell, or taste. Someone may have such a strong aversion that just the smell or taste can cause nausea, vomiting, coughing, or gagging. During pregnancy, a woman’s appetite changes constantly. It is common for a mama-to-be to experience a strong desire to avoid certain dishes even if she liked them before her pregnancy.

Pregnancy food aversion is among a variety of terms that can be described under the umbrella of “pregnancy sickness.” Pregnancy sickness encompasses episodes of nausea, vomiting, and appetite changes. In recent years, research has emerged in biopsychological science that reconsiders pregnancy sickness as an embryo-protective mechanism, which means it may be an adaptation to protect the embryo from phytotoxins and other environmental hazards. That means a woman’s food preferences — or aversions — during pregnancy may act as protection for the baby.1

What Else Causes Pregnancy Food Aversion?

Besides playing a protective role during pregnancy, hormones may also lead to a pregnant person experiencing an intense dislike of certain foods. Hormones constantly fluctuate during pregnancy, and that may come with unwanted symptoms. The hormone known as hCG, or human gonadotropin, is produced during pregnancy and may cause appetite changes, episodes of nausea, and food aversions. This hormone may also play a role in why women experience a heightened sense of smell and taste during pregnancy, which can influence the foods they prefer to eat.2

Common Food Aversions

Though not all women will experience the same food aversions during pregnancy, some common ones include a repulsion to meat, eggs, spicy foods, fatty or greasy foods, dairy, or foods with strong smells, like onions, garlic, vinegar, and fish. You are not alone if you’ve experienced a repulsion to any of these foods (or others!). Roughly 6 in 10 people experience food aversion during pregnancy, and it is common to experience the height of food aversion during weeks 6-14 of pregnancy. You may start reintroducing foods after that if you can tolerate them.3

Tips to Manage Pregnancy Food Aversion

There’s no telling what pregnancy sickness or food aversion each mama-to-be will face, and it can be tricky to navigate life when dealing with bouts of nausea or vomiting. Here are some tips to help you manage your pregnancy food aversion.

1. Learn What Foods Trigger You

For example, if you want to attend a dinner party with friends, but onions and garlic cause intense nausea or disgust, suggest a theme for the dinner party that doesn’t include dishes with onions or garlic. You can also prepare a dish to bring that doesn’t include the item or items you have an aversion to, or communicate with your friends and tell them at this stage of your pregnancy those are trigger foods with hopes they will understand.

2. Focus on the Foods You Can Tolerate

It’s essential to meet your nutritional needs during pregnancy for both you and the baby. Even if there are just a few foods you can tolerate, keep eating, and with time you may find you can start reintroducing certain foods one at a time.

3. Try Eating Smaller, More Frequent Meals

By eating small amounts often throughout the day (maybe 5-7 small meals), you may tolerate the food you eat better and avoid over-indulging, which can cause episodes of nausea and can be helpful if you are experiencing appetite changes. Small meals could look like eating an apple with peanut butter, cheese and crackers, half a sandwich with berries, rice with beans, and more.

Common Remedies to Combat Pregnancy Sickness

There are also a variety of science-backed remedies that may help avoid nausea and vomiting that comes with food aversions during pregnancy. It may take a few trials and errors to determine what remedies work for you, so always communicate with your doctor if symptoms change or get worse. Below are some remedies to try.2

  • Ginger, in tea, capsule form, or used in cooking.
  • Chamomile tea
  • Lemon oil, inhaling when symptoms of nausea arise.
  • Mint oil, inhaling when symptoms of nausea arise.
  • Vitamin B6, in supplement or capsule form, effective doses range from 10-50 mg daily.
  • Antiemetic drugs are prescribed to treat nausea and vomiting. If all other remedies fail, talk with your doctor to discuss the use of antiemetics.

Food aversions during pregnancy are incredibly common, and they may eventually pass. Until then, utilizing our tips can help you get back to doing ordinary things in your schedule, stay social, and may even help protect your baby.

Resources
1. Cardwell, Michael S. MD. Pregnancy Sickness: A Biopsychological Perspective. Obstetrical & Gynecological Survey 67(10): p 645-652, October 2012. | DOI: 10.1097/OGX.0b013e31826ff6c5
2. Matthews A, Haas DM, O’Mathúna DP, Dowswell T. Interventions for nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015;2015(9):CD007575. Published 2015 Sep 8. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007575.pub4
3. https://www.pregnancybirthbaby.org.au/

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