“Pica” refers to the compulsion to eat non-food items. It is particularly common amongst pregnant women.

Common pica cravings include:

  • Ice
  • Chalk
  • Dirt/soil
  • Toothpaste
  • Laundry powder
  • Baking soda
  • Sponges
  • Coffee grounds
  • Plaster
  • Sand

What causes pica?

The cause of pica is still unknown. It is commonly thought to result from a nutritional deficiency (e.g. lack of iron) or malnutrition or be a symptom of or form of mental illness or a developmental issue. However, each case is different.

Is pica harmful?

Ingesting non-food items can be very harmful to you and your baby. Depending on the item consumed, pica sufferers can experience:

- Dental issues
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Malnutrition
- Brain damage
- Internal organ damage
- Poisoning
- Internal bleeding
- Parasites

How is pica treated?

When pica is a symptom of pregnancy, it can resolve itself after childbirth but if you experience these symptoms during your pregnancy it is important that you discuss this with a health professional as ingesting non-food items can be very harmful. Addressing the particular malnourishment can also help by increasing the appropriate nutrients in the diet.

Pica can in some people be cured or managed through behavioral modification techniques such as aversion therapy, positive reinforcement, and overcorrection. These focus on unlearning pica-related behaviors and replacing them with healthier habits. Chat to your doctor or therapist about help managing pica symptoms.

If you find yourself craving and especially ingesting non-food items during your pregnancy, chat with your health care professional.

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