Why Do People Crave Pickles When Pregnant?

Many of us grew up with the idea that when you get pregnant, you might just start craving pickles and ice cream. Maybe you heard this in your family, or you saw the iconic scene in the "I Love Lucy" episode where Ricky comes home after traipsing all around New York City looking for foods to satisfy Lucy's pregnancy cravings. When he brings home the pickles and ice cream, Lucy proceeds to happily stick a pickle in her milkshake and take a big bite. 

Craving pickles has been a supposed side effect of pregnancy for some time. But just why do people crave pickles when they're expecting? Andrei Rebarber, MD, associate director of the division of maternal-fetal medicine at NYU Medical Center, told WebMD, "No one really knows why pregnancy cravings occur, though there are theories that it represents some nutrient that the mother may be lacking." 

In the case of salt cravings, the body may be needing potassium. Rebarber explained, "the crave is the body's way of asking for what it needs."  

The science behind the cravings

The old notion about pregnant people and pickles, especially pickles with ice cream, isn't just an old wives' tale. The influx of hormones that occur in pregnancy can cause intense pregnancy food cravings, as well as heightened food aversions (via Northwestern Medicine).

In early pregnancy, there is a rapid increase in estrogen and progesterone, and that's what causes nausea and vomiting. As you ease in your second trimester, your body gets used to the added hormones and the morning sickness usually goes away. That's typically when the cravings begin and some think that it's the body's natural way of replenishing nutrients lost during the first trimester.

There's another theory that since your taste changes, you may simply just not be tasting food correctly. According to Healthline, during pregnancy, 76% of pregnant women report strange tastes and 26% feel as though they have a lower ability to taste salt the way they did before they got pregnant. Consequently, during pregnancy, the foods we crave most are those that have strong flavors. So things that are salty, sweet, or even bitter can be desired.

Thinking about pregnancy cravings

Salt is one of most common pregnancy cravings and since blood volume increases so dramatically during pregnancy, sodium helps maintain and regulate your expanding blood volume (via Hello Motherhood).

Yet part of this intense craving is purely physical but another component may be psychological. Besides hormones, there is something to be said about thinking you might crave a certain food and then actually having cravings. After all, that's how television ads work. Who hasn't seen a fast-food commercial or candy bar ad and then developed a hankering for that food?

According to the University of Albany, having pregnancy cravings has become a "social norm" in the United States. On top of that, many women have lived a life of chronically dieting and withholding food so when they become pregnant, they allow themselves a little indulgence.

In the end, if you've got an urge for a jar of garlic dill or gherkins or sour sandwich pickles, enjoy!