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Food cravings in pregnancy: Researchers have discovered neural mechanisms that regulate it during pregnancy

A lot of people have had the uncontrollable desire to eat a particular food. These cravings (also known as food cravings) are pretty common, particularly during pregnancy. During this period, the mother’s body undergoes a range of behavioral and physiological and changes to provide a favourable climate for the development of the embryo. However, frequent consumption of high-calorie, tasty foods (due to cravings) may contribute to obesity and weight gain and during pregnancy, that can be harmful to the baby’s health. Did you ever wonder what role dopamine might play in this?

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What role does dopamine play in a woman’s pregnancy? 

When you’re pregnant, it’s not just your body that’s changing – your brain is, too. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in motivation and reward, plays a key role in these changes. For example, dopamine helps to increase food cravings in pregnancy, which helps to ensure that you and your baby get the nutrients you need.

It also helps to regulate your mood and keep you feeling positive and motivated throughout your pregnancy. So next time you’re feeling those pregnancy cravings, remember that dopamine is behind them! And if you ever need a little extra motivation during pregnancy, know that dopamine can help with that, too.

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What are the consequences of compulsive eating during pregnancy? 

When you’re pregnant, food cravings can be hard to resist. But it’s important to remember that what you eat has a direct impact on your baby’s health. If you compulsively eat unhealthy foods, you’re putting your baby at risk for obesity, diabetes, and other serious health problems.

Pregnancy is a time when you need to be extra mindful of your food choices. Be sure to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. And limit your intake of sugary, fatty, and processed foods. By making healthy food choices, you’re setting your child up for a lifetime of good health.

Food cravings in pregnancy

What is the outcome of research into food cravings during pregnancy?

The researchers found increased levels of dopamine (as well as D2R receptor activity) in the nucleus accumbens, a region of the brain involved in the reward circuit. This finding suggests that pregnancy causes a complete reorganisation of mesolimbic neuronal circuits via D2R neurons, and that these neural cells (and their deterioration) are responsible for food cravings, as one of the researchers, Haddad-Tóvolli, discovered that food anxiety, which is common throughout pregnancy, vanished after blocking their activity.

Researchers led by Haddad-Tóvolli and Claret discovered that chronic cravings affect offspring. They cause weight gain, anxiety and eating disorders by disrupting metabolism and the formation of neural circuits that control food consumption. Claret concludes that these findings are unexpected because many studies look at how a mother’s ongoing habits (such as malnutrition, chronic stress or obesity) affect her baby’s health. Nonetheless, this study suggests that brief but recurring behaviours, like binge eating, are sufficient to increase the offspring’s metabolic and psychological vulnerability.

The findings of this study may contribute to the improvement of nutritional guidelines for pregnant women in order to ensure good prenatal nutrition and disease prevention.


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What Our Patients Say

Gráinne Macken

This is my second visit to Merrion Fetal, I was very pleased on both occasions. Lovely quiet waiting room, appointment was on time. The 20-week scan is very detailed we enjoyed watching our baby on the large TV screen. We got some beautiful photos. The nurse was very pleasant and talked us through all the measurements and anatomy. I would highly recommend this scanning clinic.”

Áine Gibney

I had the best experience at the Merrion Fetal Health clinic for my 20-week big scan. The staff were so friendly and so nice and the lovely lady who did my ultrasound scan was amazing. She was so thoroughgoing to absolutely everything and gave me such reassurance on how my baby was growing and developing. I would recommend any Mother to be to attend here if you are looking for a comfortable, reassuring and super pleasant experience.”

Linda O'Sullivan

Highly recommend! We had an early scan due to a little scare at the start of pregnancy and then another at 12 weeks to make sure all was good again. Helen who was scanning on both days was fantastic. We felt totally relaxed and un-rushed while she took her time finding the best angle of baby to get us the clearest pictures as keepsakes all while making sure everything was perfect with baby. She reassured us throughout and I can honestly say it was the best money we ever spent getting both scans done.

Please let Helen know we are 18 weeks now and flying along Highly recommend!



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All articles on the blog and website are intended as information only. Please do not consider any of the information provided here as a substitute for medical advice. At all times seek medical advice directly with your own doctor and medical team.


This website was formerly Merrion Fetal Health. The clinic has undergone a rebrand and is now known as Merrion Ultrasound.