spicy food

Is Eating Spicy Food During Pregnancy OK?

You used to have a low-to-medium tolerance for spicy food. Still, no more — now that you’re pregnant, you crave anything literally with the word “buffalo” in it, from chicken wings to roasted cauliflower to convenience-store potato chips.

A woman’s diet during pregnancy is of utmost importance, as it nourishes the mother and the baby. 

As it is the only source of nourishment for the growing foetus, a woman’s diet needs to be well balanced. 

Care should be taken to include only those items that will not harm the mother and the baby.

Is all that heat safe for you and your baby? 

Here’s what you need to know if pregnancy has left you dumping hot sauce on practically everything (seriously, only your breakfast cereal is safe at this point).

Does Craving Spicy Foods Mean Anything?

Pregnancy makes you crave all kinds of stuff, none of which usually makes any sense. 

Pickles and ice cream, strawberry jam on hamburgers, marinara sauce over canned tuna — you name it, and a pregnant person has eaten it.

There’s generally one explanation: Hormones, which are to blame for pretty much everything.

There’s no trick to decoding your cravings, but some myths are floating around the internet about why many women crave spicy foods during pregnancy.

Some people think it happens more if you’re having a boy, while others wonder if it’s some sort of instinct to cool down (literally — eating spicy food makes you sweat, and sweating lowers your body temp).

Either way, your taste buds often change during and after pregnancy, so don’t worry if you’re suddenly craving five-alarm chilli. It probably isn’t a “sign” of anything worth noting.

Is Spicy Food Safe During Pregnancy?

Yes, spicy foods are safe for you and your baby when you’re pregnant. But, they certainly don’t make the long list of foods you should avoid when you’re expecting.

Plenty of people (wrongly) believe that eating spicy food is dangerous, whether or not you’re pregnant. 

It’s not true! Spicy foods are safe, although your taste buds and digestive system may not always do well with the heat.

Spicy foods can have unpleasant effects during pregnancy, especially if they tend to upset your digestive system when you’re not pregnant.

Side Effects By Trimester 

In the first trimester, eating spicy food isn’t likely to cause many issues, although it can aggravate morning sickness. 

If you’re already having trouble with all-day nausea and sickness, spicy foods may make things worse.

In the second and third trimester, eating spicy food may cause:

  • heartburn, as your growing uterus forces stomach acids higher into your esophagus
  • indigestion
  • nausea
  • diarrhea, gas, and bloating
  • an increase in gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) symptoms

Spicy Food During The First Trimester

Consuming spicy food in the first trimester is safe and does not affect the development of the baby. 

The risk of early pregnancy loss is high in the first trimester, making expecting mothers worry about the side effects of consuming spicy food.

Spicy Food During The Second And Third Trimester

Consumption of spicy food during the second and third trimesters increases the chances of experiencing heartburn and acid reflux. 

In the third trimester, the growing foetus causes stomach acids to revert to the oesophagus, and eating spicy foods could aggravate this condition.

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How Much Spice Is Safe In Food

As long as your body can digest all the spices, consuming spicy food in limited quantities is safe. 

Avoid eating spicy food cooked outside. Instead, buy fresh spices and grind them at home to avoid adulteration with heavy metals and colours.

Are Spicy Foods Safe For Baby?

Here’s some good news: Eating spicy food during pregnancy is 100 per cent safe for your baby. Really! It can’t hurt your little one.

One small word of warning, though — 2019 research suggests that eating certain foods during pregnancy can change the “flavour” of your amniotic fluid. 

However, no studies have looked at spicy food intake specifically.

Nevertheless, you could be influencing your baby’s taste buds with all those buffalo chicken wraps, and they might show a preference for certain familiar flavours later on. Not that that’s a bad thing, just FYI.

Are Spicy Foods Safe For You?

Here’s the not-so-good news: While eating a lot of spicy food isn’t bad for your baby, it can cause some unpleasant side effects for you. 

Nothing dangerous, but satisfying the craving might always be worth the pain of heartburn, indigestion, and GI distress afterwards.

If you’re not used to eating spicy foods, but pregnancy has given you a craving for chilli peppers, it’s smart to start slow.

Don’t eat spicy foods in high amounts or at every meal. Instead, make sure you stay well hydrated. Prepare spicy food safely by choosing quality ingredients and washing your hands after handling peppers.

And try to build up your tolerance to heat in increments rather than jumping straight to that ghost pepper tabasco with the skull and crossbones on the label, OK?

Effects Of Eating Spicy Food While Pregnant

Eating spicy food during pregnancy has several good and bad effects on you and your baby. Spicy foods may:

Increase The Risk Of Heartburn. 

Heartburn is pretty common during pregnancy, and spicy foods will often stoke those heartburn fires, especially in the last trimester. Also, as the baby grows bigger, it can push stomach acids up into the esophagus.

Many pregnant women suffer from heartburn, and spicy foods can aggravate it in some people. 

Heartburn occurs as pregnancy hormones relax the valve between the esophagus and stomach, allowing stomach acids to creep back up into the esophagus. 

While heartburn can happen in any trimester, it’s most common in the last trimester, as your growing baby pushes stomach acids up into the esophagus.

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Allergies 

Eating pepper can cause allergic symptoms in some moms-to-be. If you’ve ever had allergic symptoms before pregnancy, during pregnancy is not the time to try to beat those odds.

Trigger Abdominal Pain. 

Spicy foods don’t cause stomach ulcers (in fact, capsaicin – the chemical that gives peppers a bite – may even help heal ulcers). 

But spicy foods can trigger inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) symptoms in people who’ve already been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

Boost Your Overall Health. 

The capsaicin (spicy chemical) in peppers has anti-inflammatory properties. Some researchers believe that spicy foods could even support your immune system and your heart health.

Expand Your Baby’s (Future) Tastes.

What you eat during pregnancy, your baby eats. The flavours in your diet are transferred to your baby via your amniotic fluid. 

As early as week 15, your baby’s taste buds are fully formed, and she’s swallowing amniotic fluid, which means she’s likely already tasting your meals. 

Research shows that what you eat influences your baby’s later preferences, so eating various flavours and spices might help encourage an adventurous eater.

Why Am I Craving Spicy Food During Pregnancy?

Up to 90 per cent of all pregnant women experience specific food cravings during pregnancy. 

While researchers don’t understand why, exactly, we crave spicy foods (or any other foods) during pregnancy, there are several theories.

For one, you may be more sensitive to certain tastes and smells during pregnancy due to hormonal changes. 

More likely, though, cravings are influenced by the culture around you. For example, researchers point out that in Japan, people tend to crave rice instead of chocolate.

One other theory that likely doesn’t pan out: A craving signals a nutritional deficiency. If that were the case, all pregnant women would crave broccoli and beans!

Should I Eat Spicy Food To Induce Labor?

Though plenty of women attest to eating spicy foods to get labour going, there’s no evidence that this works. 

Most of the rumoured ways to naturally induce labour haven’t been proven to help.

Some people theorise that spicy food causes contractions by stimulating the digestive system. 

Others suggest that spicy food increases the production of prostaglandins, which can also help move labour along. 

But while an upset stomach or diarrhea could release prostaglandins into the body and stimulate mild uterine cramping, that’s unlikely to be enough to cause labour.

One study that surveyed 663 women compiled 50 different triggers that have been linked to labour, including eating spicy foods. 

The majority of women said they couldn’t link any specific trigger to the start of labour. The only motivation that did seem to have a possible noticeable effect in a small number of women was acupuncture.

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Can Spicy Foods Help Start Labor? 

If you’re getting close to the end of your pregnancy and thinking about giving your labour a jump start, everyone from your mother to your grandmother to the guy in the apartment next door will probably tell you to eat something spicy.

This advice is so prevalent that researchers studied it alongside other labour shortcuts (like walking, sex, and laxatives) back in 2011.

Researchers asked 201 postpartum women if they had tried to induce labour naturally and, if so, what methods they had used; of the 50 per cent who reported they had tried self-inducing, 20 per cent claimed they had eaten spicy foods to get the job done.

The only problem? There’s no science here to back this up. 

If you’re sitting pretty at 38 weeks with no dilation, chowing down on a plate of wings isn’t going to make your body suddenly ready for birth.

Myths About Eating Spicy Food When Pregnant

There are myths attached to eating spicy food during pregnancy. Myths without any scientific backing include:

  • Spicy food can harm your baby.
  • Eating spicy food can lead to pre-term labour.
  • Consumption of spicy foods during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage and congenital disabilities.

None of these myths has any scientific backing, so they must not be believed.

Additional Precautions

You might be willing to deal with the heartburn that comes with eating spicy foods if it means satisfying a powerful craving, but keep in mind that getting rid of pregnancy heartburn isn’t as easy as chugging Pepto-Bismol like it was in your pre-pregnancy days.

Not all over-the-counter drugs for heartburn, indigestion, and nausea are considered safe for pregnant women. Give your doctor a call if you’re experiencing severe or persistent GI symptoms, like:

  • diarrhea
  • burning pain
  • gas
  • cramping
  • bloating

Tips To Consume Spicy Food In The Right Manner

To make sure that you are not adversely affected by the dangers of spicy food, you must correctly consume them.

  • Consume spices that are branded and approved by food certification authorities.
  • Do not consume spices that are sold loose, as they may contain impurities such as brick powder.
  • If you are consuming new spices, start eating them in small quantities. It is best to buy fresh herbs and grind them at home.
  • Check packaging and expiry dates before buying spices from outside.
  • Limit spicy dishes to one per meal and change your cuisine if spicy Indian cuisine gives you heartburn.
  • Give preference to home-cooked food, as you can regulate the quality and quantity of spices used in food.

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How You Can Include Spicy Food In Your Diet

It would help if you were cautious and selective while consuming spicy food during pregnancy. Some of the spicy food items that can be included in your diet are as follows:

  • Wasabi Peas: These are hot and crunchy peas that are safe to eat and cause no harm.
  • Curry Sauce: A blend of onion, garlic, chilli and all common spices, curry sauce is widely used in Indian food and is safe to consume.
  • Piri-Piri Sauce: It is a blend of onion, garlic, tomato, and the main ingredient ‘super-hot African bird’s eye chilli.
  • Middle Eastern Cooking Sauces: Sweet sauces made of black onion seeds, green chillies, tomato, and coriander.

Sauces & Pickles

  • Spicy Pickles: Available at any convenient store, small amounts of these pickles alongside your food is safe and can satiate your craving for spices.
  • Pepper: One can try out pepper-based soups whenever you have a cold due to low immunity. The anti-bacterial properties of pepper and its spicy effect make it an ideal spice during pregnancy.

It is preferred to make sauces at home to avoid excessive use of spices or oils, which can cause heartburn.

Irritable Uterus Due To Spicy Food

Though spicy food is usually safe during pregnancy, too much spice or a sensitive digestive system can have side effects for pregnant women. 

In some women, spicy food can cause an irritable uterus or irritation in the intestines. Spicy foods usually pass through the gastrointestinal tract quicker than non-spicy food and may even cause diarrhoea, acidity, or gas. 

These issues can make the intestines cramp, which irritates the uterus due to its proximity to the intestines. 

The major symptom of an irritable uterus is disorganised twitching in the uterine muscles or cramps in the lower abdomen, which in rare cases, can cause contractions that begin to dilate the cervix. 

Women who are less than 37 weeks pregnant and experience any such symptoms should immediately consult their doctor, further guiding them. 

If you notice any sensitivity to spicy foods during pregnancy, such as acidity, gas, or cramping, it is suggested that you avoid spicy food.

FAQs

FAQ’s on the consumption of spicy food is as follows:

Is Consumption Of Spicy Food Safe For My Baby?

Spicy food does not harm the baby and is safe to consume.

Are There Any Side Effects Of Consuming Spicy Food?

Heartburn and digestion problems can be caused by excessive consumption of spicy food.

Can Spicy Food Affect My Baby?

The most common question that pregnant women have is, is spicy food bad for pregnancy? Spicy food does not impact the pregnancy, and it will not harm the baby in any way.

Although spicy food is safe to consume during pregnancy, it is best to keep its intake limited to avoid discomfort due to heartburn and indigestion. 

Eating a healthy diet with a mix of different flavours will help break the monotony and keep your taste buds interested in the food you consume.

So, Are There Spicy Foods To Avoid During Pregnancy?

Not really, but there is a particular reason to avoid eating spicy food while pregnant: food sensitivity. 

Certain foods can cause increased sensitivities in the third trimester, such as spicy food, carbonated drinks, and other common indigestion-inducing foods. 

These sensitivities can cause pregnant moms to avoid even the blandest of meals. Likewise, be careful not to eat trigger-inducing foods.

The Takeaway

Listen, mama: If you’ve got the stomach for it (pun intended), then you can eat all the spicy food you want during pregnancy! It won’t hurt you or your baby.

If you’re not used to heating, go slow — and if you start having uncomfortable side effects, limit how much and how often you douse your food in tabasco.

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