In my day to day job as a dietitian, I help pregnant individuals set and achieve healthy eating goals for themselves and their babies. Sometimes, I see expectant parents who have strong cravings for non-food items but feel embarrassed to talk about it with their health care professional.
So it often goes unreported and undiagnosed.
Today, we are going to shed some light on the topic!
What is Pica?
Pica is the term that describes the strong craving and eating of non-food items. Some examples are soil/clay, ice, laundry or corn starch, plaster, coffee grounds, paint chips, etc. I once had a client with a desire to eat playdough and another who craved baby powder.
While this can happen to anyone in the world, pica seems to happen more commonly during pregnancy.
What is the reason for the cravings?
We don’t know the exact reasons behind the unusual cravings. Scientists believe that it could be due a combination of reasons that are biochemical, psychological and cultural factors. There are three common theories:
- Some research studies suggest that these cravings are a result of a nutrient deficiency such as iron, zinc or calcium deficiency. However, this does not mean that eating these non-food items will help you get these nutrients.
- Some moms report liking the taste, texture and smell of these items.
- Other moms eat such items as a result of cultural or traditional beliefs.
Craving non-food items does not always mean you have a nutrient deficiency, nor does it mean you should eat them.
Is it safe for me to eat non-item foods during pregnancy?
Most non-food items are unsafe to eat.
- Eating non-food items may be toxic and can harm you and your developing baby. Some of these non-food items can cause serious complications and even infections
- These complications may interfere with your body’s natural ability to use the nutrients in foods and put you and your baby at nutritional risk.
We like to strongly encourage you to not feel guilty or embarrassed. Your health care professional is trained to be non-judgmental and understanding.
Although this kind of craving can happen to healthy pregnant women, it is worth checking out for any underlying problem that could affect you and your baby. Talking with your health care provider may help you emotionally to cope with your concerns in a healthy manner.
Feel free to share your comments below to let us know what you think.
If you have questions or would like more information, you can connect with one of our health professionals via eChat or call (416) 338-7600.