Picacism in pregnancy: symptoms, risks and treatment

Weird food cravings during pregnancy are the norm, but craving and eating non-food items is not. In this article we will talk about pica in pregnancy and its symptoms.

Picacism (or pica) is an eating disorder characterized by regularly eating inedible things that have no nutritional value, such as earth and clay. The medical term comes from the Latin name for the magpie (Pica pica), a bird said to eat almost anything. Picacism can affect just about anyone, but it’s particularly common during pregnancy.

Common cravings

If you suddenly feel the urge to eat beach sand or the soil in your garden, you may have pica. Other common cravings in pica include the desire to eat:

  • terra
  • clay
  • ice
  • laundry starch
  • starch gives more
  • sand
  • gesso
  • carbone
  • soap
  • burnt matches
  • sodium bicarbonate
  • naphthalene
  • coffee grounds
  • cigarette ash

What are the causes of pica in pregnancy

There are multiple theories about the causes of pica, from hormonal changes to its being a way to cope with stress. According to the latter theory, eating inedible items may help reduce feelings of stress, worry, or pain. The most common theory as to the cause of pica during pregnancy however is related to micronutrient deficiencies. Among the factors that could contribute to the occurrence of the disorder could also be mental disorders (such as obsessive-compulsive disorder) and neurological.

The risks of pica in pregnancy

Because some nonfood items can contain ingredients that are dangerous to both you and your baby, depending on what you ingest, complications of pica can range from constipation and cramping to intestinal obstruction, bacterial infection, and poisoning. But not only that, eating non-food products could lead you to reduce your consumption of healthy and nutritious foods, leading to malnutrition. Whatever non-food item is ingested, even if it’s just ice, pica should always be considered life-threatening behavior and treated accordingly.

How to treat pica

As we have seen, pica is unfortunately a poorly understood condition, possibly caused by a wide range of interacting factors, which is not exactly good news when it comes to treating it – treating it will most likely require a combination of approaches. If you have cravings or strange eating habits, which do not involve food products, contact your doctor, he will be able to guide you. Just talking to your doctor about these problems can help you deal with them in the best way.

Katherine Johnson, M.D., is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist with clinical expertise in general obstetrics and gynecology, family planning, women’s health, and gynecology.

She is affiliated with the Obstetrics and Gynecology division at an undisclosed healthcare institution and the online platform, Maternicity.com.

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