Changing tastes in pregnancy

food pregnancy
food pregnancy Photo: Getty Images

There’s no denying that our bodies go through some massive changes when we’re pregnant, most of which are apparent to the naked eye. But what about those changes which aren’t so obvious to others? The changes which happen inside our body, and come as more of a surprise than the day we can longer see our own feet? And I’m not talking about the mood swings that we have – as I’m sure most partners will agree, those tend to be quite obvious.

I’m talking about the changes that can happen to our tastebuds; the changes which see us have a sudden turnaround in terms of the food we do and don’t like, seeing us reach for previously hated foods in place of favourite meals we can no longer stomach.

Rebecca Stephens, a mum to two, says she experienced changes in her tastebuds in both her pregnancies, but it was during her first pregnancy that she craved cream, something which had previously made her violently ill.

“I don't know what possessed me to try cream when I was pregnant with my first son,” she says. “I just decided during late pregnancy that I had to have some, and was surprised to find that I actually enjoyed the taste and it no longer made me ill.”

After her son was born Rebecca was curious as to whether or not her aversion to cream would return. She decided to put it to the ultimate test, by the means of consuming an Eton Mess, a desert predominantly made of cream. “I loved it and it had no bad side effects,” she says.

During her second pregnancy she had a similar experience, although this time it was of a savoury variety. “I started craving bacon towards the end of my first trimester with my second pregnancy,” she explains. “Before then I had never really enjoyed bacon on its own; I found the taste too strong, and only liked it when it was a small part of a meal, like on a pizza or in a risotto.”

But while her husband was cooking his usual weekend breakfast of bacon and eggs one morning things changed. “It smelled fabulous, so I asked him if he could cook some for me too. It tasted totally different and I really enjoyed it, and still do to this day.”

Meagan Phillipson, a mum and author, also experienced a change with her tastebuds after pregnancy – although hers was beverage related.

“Before I was pregnant I would only ever drink white wine. I had tried red wine a few times because my husband likes it, but I could never get past the first sip,” she says. “After giving birth and breastfeeding I tried a glass of white wine and found it tasted metallic and I didn't like it at all.

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“My husband was enjoying a glass of red over dinner and I felt a craving for it so I asked him to pour a glass. He almost fell off his chair! I haven't gone back to white since.”

According to Dr Freeman, director and founder for GP2U, it’s common for women to experience taste changes during pregnancy. “While there has been very little research into this phenomenon, there are some common observations,” he explains. “Pregnancy is a cyclonic storm of rampaging hormones and we know hormones have far reaching effects.”

Dr Freeman states that the presence of high oestrogen levels can often increase the sensation of sweetness and bitterness in foods, while it can decrease sensitivity to salty foods.

“From an evolutionary point of view this makes sense, because pregnant women have an increased requirement for salt,” he says. “The aversion to bitter substances also makes sense because although there are some delicious bitter foods, like grapefruit, in nature most things that we taste as bitter are also poisonous.”

“Unfortunately, a commonly reported sensation during pregnancy is an unpleasant metallic taste in the mouth, especially in the first trimester. This is best treated with acidic food like citrus, salad dressings, pickled foods or salt water, or baking soda mouthwash can also help.”

So do our tastebuds ever return to their pre-pregnancy state? According to Dr Freeman this is, once again, linked to hormones.

“Once baby has arrived hormone levels start to settle back towards normal,” he says. “But breastfeeding requires different hormone levels to promote milk production, so things aren’t really back to normal until the baby is weaned.”