Pregnancy comes with so many changes to both your body and mind. So if you’ve noticed that you’ve been reaching for some Szechuan Chicken more than normal, it’s probably one of those pregnancy cravings. But as you’re popping another jalapeno popper into your mouth, you might be wondering if it’s safe to eat spicy foods during pregnancy. The good news is that your body (and Baby!) can handle the heat — as long as your tummy can, that is.
Even if you weren’t interested in slathering everything in siracha before you became pregnant, you might notice that lately you want your food to be flaming hot. As it turns out, salty (and yes, spicy) food cravings are often expected when you’re expecting. Researchers found that almost one-third of pregnant women changed their diet during their first trimester and almost all of them developed a love for all things spicy.
But even if you know that you could crave spicy coconut chicken soup during your nine months, you might be worried about how it will all affect Baby. This is what you need to know before you sit down to eat those spicy boneless spareribs.
What Do Spicy Food Cravings During Pregnancy Mean?
You’ve always had a sweet spot for strawberry shortcake, but once you became pregnant, you couldn’t get enough of kimchi. What gives with the crazy cravings? “While some cravings may have probable cause such as pickles and increased sodium needs or milk and increased iodine needs, there is no hypothesis behind why pregnant women may crave spicy food,” explains Ryann Kipping, RDN, a prenatal nutritionist and author of The Feel-Good Pregnancy Cookbook. “One theory is that pregnancy cravings may partially be rooted in a sense of nostalgia, i.e., if you ate a lot of spicy foods growing up or at a time in your life when you needed comfort, you may crave these same foods during pregnancy.” So if you grew up in a home where chicken vindaloo was a Sunday night staple, it makes sense that you might want to eat it all the time when you’re pregnant.
Some cravings can be your body’s way of letting you know that it needs certain nutrients. “Spicy food cravings during pregnancy are common and are probably the result of hormonal changes,” says Dr. Michael Green, M.D., a board-certified OB/GYN. “Cravings can also sometimes be a sign that the body needs certain nutrients found in spicy foods, such as vitamin C or iron, for example.”
Is It Safe To Eat Spicy Foods During Pregnancy?
During your first trimester, you might dream about eating salt and vinegar chips and licking all of the delish dust from your fingers. But if you’re concerned that your cravings might mean something sinister, you shouldn’t really worry, according to Green. “Yes, you can generally eat spicy food during pregnancy!” says Green. “However, some pregnant women may experience heartburn or indigestion after eating spicy foods, so it’s vital to pay attention to how your body reacts for your own comfort.”
How Does Spicy Food Affect Your Baby During Pregnancy?
There’s nothing that can compare to the satisfaction you feel when you crush a craving. Thing is, even though you might feel amazing after eating that spicy beef and broccoli, you might be scared that it could adversely affect your baby. So if you’re wondering, “Does spicy food affect Baby in the womb?” the answer is, thankfully, no. “Spicy food is not harmful to the baby during pregnancy,” says Dr. James Walker, M.D., a clinical doctor. “However, if a pregnant woman experiences discomfort or heartburn after eating spicy food, it can be uncomfortable for both her and the baby.” That’s why, as with any craving, you should be careful not to consume too much of it so that you don’t regret eating that spicy sausage rigatoni.
That said, there are some benefits to caving into those cravings. In fact, it just might your child a more adventurous eater when they’re older. “Flavors from foods consumed by the mother, such as garlic or carrots, have been found to transfer into and change the flavor of her amniotic fluid and breastmilk,” says Kipping. “Therefore, the fetus and infant can experience different flavors depending on the foods, beverages, and spices that the mother consumes.” Not only will your Baby get to experience a wide variety of flavors in utero, but they’ll probably be asking for some extra ceviche when they’re older, too. Adds Kipping: “When a fetus or infant has been exposed to specific flavors, the infant was found to have enhanced enjoyment of that flavor when they were weaning to solid foods. Early experiences with flavors such as spicy foods might influence the baby’s taste buds and form the foundation for accepting and preferring similar flavors later in their life.”
What Are Some Safe Heartburn Remedies To Take During Pregnancy?
As yummy as fish curry can be, there are sometimes consequences to eating your favorite cravings. And with spicy food, the biggest one is heartburn. Fortunately, there are over-the-counter remedies that can aid in relieving any discomfort you might feel. “There are several safe heartburn remedies that pregnant women can try, including antacids that contain calcium, magnesium, or aluminum hydroxide,” says Walker. But before you buy any OTC meds, be sure to check in with your OB-GYN to make sure that it’s safe for your specific pregnancy needs. Adds Walker: “It is important to check with your healthcare provider before taking any medication or supplement during pregnancy.” This is especially true if you experience any kind of stomach pain after each spicy food during pregnancy.
You might not be able to avoid heartburn, but you can help stomach spicy food better by adapting your diet. “If you want to eat spicy foods, you should drink plenty of water, eat smaller, more frequent meals, avoid trigger foods (like acidic foods),” adds Green.
How Much Spicy Food Should You Eat During Pregnancy?
Unlike soft cheeses or certain kinds of fish, spicy food isn’t off the table (ha) when it comes to pregnancy. Still, you’ll want to take it slow if you’re planning to chow down on that spicy salmon you made for dinner. “No specific amount of spicy food is recommended or prohibited during pregnancy,” advises Green. “Pregnant women should always listen to their bodies and how they feel after eating spicy foods, but you may want to avoid or limit your intake if you experience discomfort or heartburn after eating spicy food.” You can definitely indulge in your favorite foods (spicy or not), but the experts agree that you should balance out your diet with a wide range of healthy foods and nutrients.
Now, if you have a medical condition that could be further complicated by consuming spicy foods, it might not be safe to eat spicy foods during pregnancy. Most likely, you’ll probably want to eat them once in a while — if at all. “If you suffer from GERD or are dealing with heartburn during pregnancy, it may be beneficial to try avoiding spicy foods since they might aggravate these symptoms,” advises Kipping. “Besides avoiding spicy foods if it contributes to your heartburn, eating smaller frequent meals, drinking most of your water between meals, and going on a short walk after meals are all ways to reduce heartburn.”
Are spicy foods bad for pregnancy? For the most part, no. They can satisfy a pregnant person’s craving for something with more flavor, be a connection to a past dish from childhood, or be your body’s way of letting you know what nutrients it needs. But in this instance, you can have too much of a good thing, so be sure to listen to your body when you eat spicy food so that you don’t end up feeling the burn — of heartburn, that is.
Fasunia, A., Nwankwo, U., Onakoya, P., Oladokun, A., Nwaorgu, O. (2019) “Gustatory Function of Pregnant and Nonpregnant Women in a Tertiary Health Institution” Ear Nose Throat Journal.
Ryann Kipping, RDN, a prenatal nutritionist and author of The Feel-Good Pregnancy Cookbook
Dr. James Walker, M.D., a clinical doctor
Dr. Michael Green, M.D., a board-certified OB/GYN