Pica During Pregnancy

Weird food cravings are par for the course—but feasting on nonfood items is not. Learn what pica is and what symptoms to look out for.
profile picture of Nicole Meadow
ByNicole Meadow
MPN, RD, Nutritionist
Updated
May 2017
pica pregnancy craving rock dirt clay

Strange food cravings are a kind of pregnancy hallmark—think: an ice cream sunday with a pickle chaser. But when your cravings leave you with a hankering for nonfood items, there could be something else going on.

What Is Pica?

Pica is a condition in which pregnant women compulsively eat nonfood items (over the course of at least a month) that don’t have any nutritional value, like dirt and clay. The medical term comes from the Latin name for magpie (Pica pica), a bird that’s said to eat almost anything.

Common Pica Cravings

If you’re suddenly feeling the urge to eat the sand at the beach or the soil in your backyard, you may have pica. According to the American Pregnancy Association, some common pica cravings include:

• Dirt
• Clay
• Ice • Laundry starch • Cornstarch • Sand
• Plaster
• Charcoal
• Soap
• Burnt matches
• Baking soda • Mothballs
• Coffee grounds
• Cigarette ashes

What Causes Pica

We don’t know for certain what causes pica, but according to the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, it could be connected to iron deficiency and poor nutrition. There aren’t any specific tests for pica, but since there may be a connection to vitamin deficiency, your doctor may test your blood for low levels of iron and zinc.

Luckily, pica isn’t super-common among pregnant women. According to the American Pregnancy Association, while pica can occur during pregnancy, it’s more often seen in kids (approximately 25 to 30 percent of children).

Can Pica Affect Your Pregnancy?

Depending on what you actually ingest, complications from pica can range from constipation and cramping to intestinal obstruction, infection and poisoning, since certain nonfood items may contain toxic ingredients that can potentially harm both you and baby. Eating nonfoods could get in the way of you eating healthy, nutritious foods, leading to malnutrition. Plus, if you do have a vitamin deficiency, it could mean baby’s not getting something he needs.

Related Video

How To Treat Pica

If you’re experiencing unusual cravings for nonfoods, contact your doctor. He or she may test you for nutrition deficiency and give you vitamin supplements, and work with you to come up with a treatment plan. There’s no specific way to prevent pica, but getting the right amount of nutrients may help.

What Other Women Do When They Have Pica

“The last two weeks I’ve been craving ice, and I’ve been losing the battle to NOT eat snow. Doctor put me on iron pills yesterday.”

“I had it with my first pregnancy—I craved dirt. Don’t worry—I knew not to really eat it, but I loved to smell it. This time around, it’s sand.”

“I don’t have it, but a girlfriend of mine craved laundry detergent and dirt when she was pregnant.”

Plus, more from The Bump:

Combat Pregnancy Cravings With Cookie Dough

Anisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Published
05/03/2015

Pica During Pregnancy

Nicole Meadow
MPN, RD, Nutritionist

Watch a Chocolate Craving Bring a Pregnant Woman to Tears

Anisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Published
02/24/2017

Q&A: What's Up With Weird Not Food Cravings?

Nicole Meadow
MPN, RD, Nutritionist

Pickle Ice Pops Are Your New Favorite Summer Treat

Stephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
Published
06/12/2019

This Mom Turned Off-Limit Pregnancy Cravings Into a Business Idea

Anisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Published
09/15/2017

This New Jersey Sandwich Shop Replaces Bread With Giant Pickles

Stephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
Published
08/13/2019

Here's What a Food Blogger's Maternity Shoot Looks Like

Anisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Published
03/16/2017

Pickle-Flavored Ice Cream Is the Stuff of Pregnancy Craving Dreams

Anisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Published
05/10/2018

Every Mom Can Relate to This Hilarious Cravings-Inspired Photo Shoot

Sarah Hooper
Associate Social Editor
Published
05/03/2018

Joanna Gaines Just Out-Weirded Your Pregnancy Cravings

Sarah Hooper
Associate Social Editor
Published
02/09/2018
Advertisement