While not a common side effect of pregnancy, cravings for non-food items are neither unheard of nor surprising. The desire to eat ice, chalk, dirt, ashes, starch, soap – even matches – is called pica.
If this happens to you, don’t panic. We see patients many times who are too embarrassed or afraid to admit they have these cravings. It’s a real concern, and it’s important to discuss your symptoms and the specific items you’re craving with your physician or provider. Together, we’ll work to stop this eating disorder as soon as possible so you don’t wind up with a serious health issue.
Risks associated with pica include intestinal blockage, malnutrition, toxicity, and weight gain. When eaten, earth, clay or other non-digestible substances can collect in your bowels and make it difficult or even impossible to expel. If your cravings are for bulkier items, ruptured intestines are a possibility. The items you ingest may contain parasites, chemicals or toxins that could harm the fetus as well as your own body. And, these substances, or what’s in them, can interfere with your body’s ability to absorb the nutrients in the healthy foods you’re eating. Depending on what you’re consuming (corn starch is full of empty calories), you could even gain weight.
Your doctor will check your iron level to ensure you don’t have an iron deficiency. He or she may prescribe an iron pill or potentially iron infusion to get you back on track. It may also be suggested that you increase the protein or iron-enriched foods you are eating each day. Adding a vitamin C supplement in between meals might help as well. If there is a deficiency in your diet, your doctor will recommend you eat plenty of low-fat protein, complex carbohydrates, and fresh fruits and vegetables daily. He or she may even prescribe some counseling sessions from a therapist or dietitian.
While there is no definitive reason for the cause of pica, it’s suspected that it could be physical, psychological, cultural, and even a learned behavior. If you have unusual cravings, don’t justify them by saying your baby is hungry for what you are craving. Talk to your doctor, and he or she will help you decide what to do next.
Ginny Wolf is a registered dietitian with the WakeMed Diabetes Program.
New WakeMed Women’s Hospital Opening May 2015
We’re counting down the weeks until the May 2015 grand opening of Wake County’s fifth full-service hospital, WakeMed North Family Health & Women’s Hospital. WakeMed North Healthplex at 10000 Falls of Neuse Road in Raleigh is currently being transformed into a 248,800-sq. ft., full-service women’s hospital designed with the unique needs of women in mind. It will feature a tranquil environment as well as amenities tailored to our patients’ needs. This includes spacious and comfortable labor and delivery rooms. Learn more.