Can pregnancy cravings be used to predict baby gender?

Claire Thomas, Alphabiolabs

By Claire Thomas, DNA Technical Manager at AlphaBiolabs
Last reviewed: 19/06/2024

Many women experience food cravings during pregnancy. But can these cravings be used to predict the baby’s gender?

In this article, we discuss pregnancy cravings, what they mean, and why DNA testing is the only reliable way to find out the sex of your baby.

What causes food cravings during pregnancy?

Food cravings are different to being hungry. When someone experiences a craving for a particular food, this results in an intense desire for a particular food that seemingly comes out of nowhere.

There are several factors that can trigger specific food cravings during pregnancy.

Hormonal changes

It’s widely known that women’s hormones fluctuate during pregnancy, but few people realise that these hormonal changes can cause food cravings.

During the first few weeks of pregnancy, the hormones oestrogen and progesterone are produced in the placenta, and the ovaries cause the levels of these hormones to increase rapidly.

Oestrogen is linked to the ‘happy hormones’ dopamine and serotonin. However, during pregnancy, dopamine levels drop, causing the body to crave mood-boosting comfort foods like pizza, chocolate or cake.

Meanwhile, progesterone increases appetite by stimulating the activity of ghrelin, also known as ‘the hunger hormone’. Ghrelin is usually secreted from the stomach, but during pregnancy it is also released from the placenta, often causing women to feel hungrier during pregnancy. It is believed that this happens to ensure the mother is getting enough calories to support the growth of the baby.

Increased progesterone levels can also lead to losing more sodium (salt) in the urine, causing cravings for salty foods such as chips, crisps, or pickles to increase sodium levels.

These hormones can also cause changes to the taste receptors on the surface of the tongue, and a heightened sense of smell, triggering cravings for certain foods.

But food cravings caused by hormonal changes are not exclusive to pregnancy. Many women also experience food cravings during their menstrual cycle due to the hormonal fluctuations that occur throughout the month.

Nutritional needs and deficiencies

During pregnancy the body undergoes huge changes, and with those come changes in nutritional requirements to support the baby’s growth.

Food cravings act as a survival mechanism to ensure the mother and the baby are getting all the nutrients they need.

Pregnant women require around 200-300 extra calories per day, which often causes cravings for high-calorie foods like ice cream or pizza.

Throughout pregnancy, women also require 50% more iron every day to make enough blood for both the mother and the growing baby, and to supply the baby with oxygen. This increased need for iron causes cravings for iron-rich foods such as red meat.

In contrast, a vitamin C deficiency may present as a craving for fruit as many fruits, especially citrus fruits like oranges or lemons, are high in vitamin C. And cravings for ice-cream, cheese or other dairy products may be a result of low calcium levels.

A craving for salty, savoury foods such as chips and crisps can be a sign that the body needs more sodium (salt). Sodium is an essential nutrient for maintaining fluid balance, which is especially important during pregnancy when blood volume increases.

When do pregnancy cravings start?

The time at which pregnancy cravings start – or whether there are any cravings at all – varies from woman-to-woman and can even vary in the same woman during different pregnancies.

For women who experience food cravings during pregnancy, these are most likely to start during the first trimester, when hormone levels first begin to increase.

Cravings usually become stronger during the second trimester and peak around weeks 15-21, before subsiding in the third trimester.

You may have heard that pregnancy cravings can be used to predict baby gender, but this is nothing more than a myth.

There is no scientific evidence to show that food cravings during pregnancy can indicate a baby’s biological sex. The only reliable way to find out the sex of your baby before it is born is by taking a DNA test.

Order your At-home Baby Gender Test

Which pregnancy food cravings are associated with having a boy?

The old wives’ tale is that women carrying a baby boy will crave salty or savoury foods like meat, cheese, and other protein-rich foods.

In fact, cravings for salty foods are more likely a sign that your body needs more sodium (salt), while a craving for cheese could be result of a calcium deficiency.

If you are craving protein-rich foods like red meat, this could be your body’s way of letting you know that your iron levels are low.

Which pregnancy food cravings are associated with having a girl?

When pregnant with a girl, the theory is that you will crave sweet foods like chocolate, fruit, and ice cream.

However, evidence shows that a craving for fruit can be caused by a vitamin C deficiency and is therefore not a sign that your baby is going to be a girl.

Additionally, craving comfort foods like chocolate and ice cream could indicate that your body needs mood-boosting comfort foods due to the drop in dopamine levels, which often occurs during early pregnancy.

Can you crave non-food items during pregnancy?

While it is common and very normal for women to experience food cravings during pregnancy it is also possible (and surprisingly common!) for women to crave non-food items.

This condition, known as “Pica”, causes a strong desire to eat items that are not food. Some common non-food cravings include dirt, chalk, coins, and cleaning products.

A craving for non-food items during pregnancy is often a sign of a nutritional deficiency.

If you are pregnant and experiencing cravings of this nature, it is extremely important that you do not consume any non-food items, and instead contact your GP or another medical professional who will be able to offer support and advice.

Which foods should be avoided when pregnant?

Whilst it is usually safe to give in to your cravings, there are several foods that should be avoided during pregnancy as they could cause harm to your baby.

  • Any dairy products made from unpasteurised milk, mould-ripened soft cheeses or blue cheeses should not be consumed during pregnancy. These may include many of your favourite cheeses like goats’ cheese, brie, and gorgonzola. Unpasteurised dairy products may contain listeria bacteria which can cause an infection known as listeriosis.

    This infection can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, or cause your baby to have severe sepsis or meningitis when they are born.

  • All types of pâtés, including vegetable pâté, should not be eaten while pregnant as they may also contain listeria bacteria.
  • Certain types of fish, namely raw fish, cold-smoked or cured fish, such as smoked salmon, mackerel and other raw fish used in sushi dishes, can contain listeria bacteria. However, it is okay to eat sushi that does not contain raw fish.
  • Liver and liver products should be avoided as they contain lots of vitamin A. Too much vitamin A during pregnancy can cause birth defects such as bifida.
  • Raw or undercooked meat, especially poultry, should be avoided. Eating raw or undercooked meat can cause toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that can lead to miscarriage.

  • Cured meats like pepperoni and chorizo are also considered raw meats so should not be eaten cold. However, they are fine to eat when cooked, so you can still enjoy a pepperoni pizza even if you are pregnant!

  • Game meats such as goose and pheasant should be avoided entirely, as these animals are sometimes killed with lead shot. If lead is consumed, this can cause harm to your baby’s developing brain and nervous system.

Further guidance on foods to avoid during pregnancy can be found on the NHS website.

How can I find out the gender of my baby?

Although old wives’ tales would have you believe that you can find out the sex of your baby based on your pregnancy cravings, there is no scientific evidence to support this.

The only way to find out your baby’s gender before the birth is with a DNA test. That’s where AlphaBiolabs can help!

Our easy-to-use At-home Baby Gender Test has been designed with you in mind, allowing you to collect your own blood sample at home using our innovative, pain-free TinyTAP device, and return it to our laboratory for testing.

Your secure results will be emailed to you in 3 working days*, or the next-day* if you upgrade to our Express Service.

Benefits of our At-home Baby Gender Test:

  • Test as early as 6 weeks into pregnancy
  • 100% safe and risk-free – only a blood sample from mum required
  • The only UK testing laboratory to offer blood-collection using TinyTAP – the ultimate convenience
  • Pain-free
  • No additional fees (all lab fees included)
  • Award-winning, UKAS-accredited laboratory
  • Ideal for people who are needle-phobic – no blood draw needed
  • All testing performed in the UK – so your sample will never be sent abroad

If you would prefer to have your blood sample collected by one of our specially trained clinicians (using TinyTAP or a venous blood draw), you have the option to order a Clinical Baby Gender Test.

When placing your order, simply choose an appointment at one of our UK-wide walk-in centres, or a visit from one of our professional sample collectors, and a member of our Customer Services team will contact you to arrange your blood draw.

Order your Baby Gender Test online now, call 0333 600 1300 or email info@alphabiolabs.com.

*From receipt of samples at our laboratory, before 10am

Baby Gender Testing

Boy or Girl? Find out for just £89 with results in 3 days

Claire Thomas, AlphaBiolabs

Claire Thomas

DNA Technical Manager at AlphaBiolabs

Claire joined AlphaBiolabs in 2018 and holds the role of DNA Technical Manager, working within the genetics team. 

A highly-skilled geneticist, Claire is a member of the International Society for Forensic Genetics (ISFG), and holds a BSc in Biochemistry.

Claire’s main responsibilities include ensuring all members of the DNA team adhere to ISO 17025 accreditation standards, and that they are comprehensively trained in the latest techniques for DNA analysis.

She also oversees the quality and integrity of AlphaBiolabs’ DNA test reports, ensuring the very highest standards are maintained.

Prior to joining AlphaBiolabs, Claire completed an internship in Molecular Genetics with the NHS, providing services for the diagnosis of inherited disorders.

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