Some of the cravings experienced in pregnancy can be pretty surprising. Our experts explain what’s going on with these bizarre food obsessions

Around 85 percent of pregnant women will at some point have strange food cravings. But what does it all mean?

What causes cravings?

There’s no shortage of theories. Some experts think cravings have psychological causes, while others see them as a nudge towards the nutrients you need. But, so far, scientists haven’t found a definitive answer.

"It’s possibly to do with changing hormone levels," says fertility and pre-natal nutritionist Saidee Bailey. "Higher levels of progesterone can make sweet flavours taste better, and an increase in blood volume could mean you crave saltier-tasting foods."

Are cravings dangerous for my baby?

In most cases, no. But a small number of pregnant women crave non-edible items, such as coal, soap or soil. "This is known as pica and, although it’s not proven why it occurs, it has been linked to a desire to reduce heartburn and acid reflux in pregnancy," says Saidee. "But eating these substances could be harmful and this type of craving should be reported to your GP or midwife."

From delicious to the downright odd

Just to illustrate how diverse, weird and wonderful pregnancy cravings can be, here are some of the cravings reported by Boots Parenting Club members:

• Salt n Vinegar Squares

• Wotsits

• Stuffed vine leaves

• Lettuce

• Walnut cake

• Weetabix

• Red meat

• Gravy

• Chocolate milkshake

• Pineapple juice

• Party rings

• Jelly tots

• Sweetcorn and Nutella sandwiches

• Chewing on crushed ice!

What to eat when pregnant

Having a bit of what you crave is fine most of the time, provided you don’t lose focus.

"It’s more important than ever to stick to a balanced diet when you’re pregnant," says Boots Parenting Club nutritionist Vicky Pennington. Saidee agrees: "Cravings are good for your soul and spirit as long as they’re safe to eat, you indulge in moderation and eat plenty of other healthy foods."

Count yourself lucky if your cravings tend towards fresh tropical fruits and green leafy vegetables (it does happen!). But a healthy pregnancy diet means eating healthily overall with good nutrition: plenty of fruit and veg and wholegrain breads, cereals and pasta, with moderate helpings of calcium-rich dairy foods and protein.

Best pregnancy cravings to cave in to:

• Turkey: lean meat for protein and iron

• Avocado: for healthy fats and vitamin E

• Carrots: for vitamin A to support eye health

• Oily fish: one portion a week for omega 3. Please ensure that ready to eat smoked fish is thoroughly cooked before eaten.

• Bread, pasta or potatoes: for energy 

The importance of pregnancy supplements

Since you can’t depend on craving everything you need to support your baby’s development, you will need to take a supplement, too, on top of a healthy diet. Government advice is to take a supplement containing 400 mcg (micrograms) of folic acid while trying to conceive and for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Vitamin D is also recommended. "It helps us absorb calcium for healthy bones and teeth," says Vicky. But as sunlight is our main source of vitamin D, the Department of Health recommends that pregnant mums consider a supplement of 10mcg of vitamin D a day during autumn and winter. "Taking vitamin D during pregnancy and breastfeeding will support you and build up stores for your baby," says Vicky.