Pregnancy can often create cravings for various foods.  Typically, this is harmless and indicates either the body trying to make up for a deficiency or simply a change in taste due to hormonal changes.  Pica is a condition in which a person craves and consumes non-food substances, and can occur during pregnancy.

There are differing varieties of pica.  Pica may come in the form of Geophagia, the consumption of earth and clay.  It may be Amylophagia, the consumption of starch and paste.  It may be Pagophagia, the eating of ice.  Or it may be the consumption of soap, hair, matches, ash, chalk, paint chips, or any number of substances.

Pica can be associated with nutritional deficiencies.  For example, consumption of ice may indicate an iron or folic acid deficiency.  Often, if the deficiency is corrected the craving will disappear.

Sometimes, however, no nutritional deficiencies can be found.  This can be dangerous, as giving in to pica cravings can create health problems.  Many of the items craved, such as clay and starch, can interfere with nutrient absorption and lead to dietary deficiencies.  Others, such as dirt and paint chips, can lead to parasitic disease, bowel blockage or lead poisoning.  Even ice, although non-toxic, can lead to iron deficiencies if consumed in large amounts.

All in all, not much is known about pica. The biggest concern of practitioners is that pregnant women will fear confiding in them for fear of embarrassment over eating non-food substances. This increases the risks to both the mother and the baby’s health.  If you experience these cravings you should discuss them with your physician, who will likely be able to help you find a solution.

What is pica and what causes it?