You’ve heard about (or experienced firsthand) some crazy cravings during pregnancy-- ice cream and pickles, for instance. But how about laundry starch, or plaster, ice, soap, or dirt? Cravings like these, (and this is only a partial list), while they may seem plain old weird, are actually signs of a condition called pica. Pica comes from the Latin word, meaning magpie. The magpie is a bird that will eat almost anything.
When pica occurs during pregnancy, it can be a sign of a nutritional deficiency, most often iron. During pregnancy, the need for certain minerals and vitamins increases due to the demands placed on the body by the growing fetus. During pregnancy, your blood volume increases, by almost 50% of your non-pregnant blood volume. Your body makes this blood, and needs the iron to create the hemoglobin.
During the second and third trimesters, the baby takes iron from your body, and so does the placenta. If you began your pregnancy with low iron, your body will need it even more. A lack of iron, called anemia, can cause premature delivery, low birth weight and in the worst case, infant mortality. Your growing baby is taking everything it needs from you. If you are nutritionally deficient in one area or another, your body might signal you to eat certain foods in an attempt to eliminate that deficiency.
What is mysterious about craving non-food items like paint, or coffee grounds, is that these non-food items don’t necessarily contain iron; they are simply a signal that there is a deficiency present.
I remember going over my nutritional needs with my OB when I was pregnant. She was telling me about the importance of prenatal vitamins. I said, “What if I forget to take them one day, will the baby be OK?” She laughed, and said “The multivitamins are more for you than the baby. The baby will take everything it needs from your body. If it needs more calcium, it will literally leech it from your bones for it’s own needs. The vitamins and good diet are to make sure when the baby drains all it needs from you, that you still have something left for yourself!”
So, if your cravings are wandering into the non-food categories, be sure to consult your doctor. Giving in to these cravings and ingesting non food items can actually be harmful, and have the reverse effect of making the absorption of minerals and vitamins more difficult. Additionally, some of the non-food items, if ingested, could be toxic, or could contain parasites.