The other day I was talking to my mom and we were discussing pregnancy cravings. I was telling her of my recent cravings and she was telling me about the cravings she had when she was pregnant. Then she told me of a woman she once knew who would eat coffee grinds by the spoonfuls when she was pregnant. Now, my popcorn and chocolate cravings might seem weird, but coffee grinds? Why would anyone consume coffee grinds?
As I later thought about the conversation my mom and I had, I decided to do some searching on the internet. I discovered that what this woman was doing was actually an eating disorder known as Pica. I wanted to know more about this unusual disorder, so I began my research.
What is Pica?
According to the American Pregnancy Association, Pica is craving non-food or non-nutritive items. While the most common Pica cravings are clay and dirt, they can also be coffee grinds, laundry starch, ashes, ice, soap, and cigarette butts. The word pica comes from the Latin word magpie which is a bird that will eat anything.
What causes Pica?
Pica is most commonly seen in children and people with mental disorders. But, don’t think that your pregnancy has made you crazy. It’s also seen in pregnancy. While no one knows for sure what causes Pica during pregnancy, many people believe that it is a sign of a mineral deficiency. The most common deficiency is an Iron deficiency. There can be other deficiencies such as Calcium, Zinc or Folic Acid.
Pica can also be a cultural thing. In some countries, pregnant women are commonly known to eat clay to obtain nutrients. There are also places where dirt or clay is sold for the sole purpose of consuming it.
Is Pica dangerous?
While craving something such as ice may not be harmful, other cravings can be. Consuming paint chips or some dirt can lead to lead poisoning. Lead poisoning causes brain damage and in more severe cases death. There is also the risk of consuming a harmful parasite. Some of the substances consumed can actually inhibit the absorption of nutrients in food. This can worsen any deficiencies present. Also, consuming such non-food items can cause a bowel obstruction.
The risks to your unborn baby can include low birth weight, pre-term labor, in-utero lead exposure and even stillbirth.
Is there a cure for Pica?
There is no definitive cure for Pica. Some pregnant women have been known to stop consuming these non-food items once treated for anemia. Most children outgrow Pica by the time they are two years old, but may need treatment if the behavior continues. The most common treatment for Pica is psychological counseling. Pica has been known to subside when the effects of the behavior is made known to the patient.
Pica in pregnant women is more prevalent if the woman suffered from the disorder in childhood. It is also more common in first pregnancies and younger mothers. If you are pregnant and experiencing Pica, contact your doctor. They can run tests to see if you have a deficiency that can be treated.