Craving and deliberate consumption of non-food items is referred to as Pica. Cravings are a side-effect of pregnancy caused by changing hormone levels, however, except for some women, these cravings are often risky.
While ‘traditional’ things like pickles or anchovies are craved by pregnant women, cravings can sometimes be strange. The strength and seriousness of some women’s non-food cravings may after all be Pica: a type of eating disorder characterized by the persistent eating of items with no nutritional value. The etiology of pica appears to be complex. Many causes are postulated like environmental, nutritional, socioeconomic, physiologic, cultural, and psychiatric causes. Pica is apparantly practiced by some women for medicinal purposes. for instance, clay eaten in parts of Nigeria has been shown to contain kaolinite and to act as a potent antidiarrheal; it binds toxins and bacteria and will form a protective coat on the intestinal epithelium.
Pica is potentially life-threatening depending on the things craved, and also the concern around Pica in pregnancy is the harm it can do to the mother and also the baby. Culture can also play a role in pica—like if it encourages specific dietary practices and indulgence of cravings.
Possible nutritional deficiencies, like vitamin and mineral deficiencies, are mostly the cause of pica. One in all the foremost widely postulated causes of clay and dirt pica is iron-deficiency anaemia.
The medical consequences, if any, of pica for mother and fetus vary with the nature of the item consumed. Some of the results on the mother might include dental injury, constipation, obstruction, dysfunctional labour because of faecal impaction, parasitic infections, toxaemia, interference with the absorption of minerals, lead poisoning, and hyperkalemia. Possible effects on the fetus might include prematurity, perinatal mortality, low birth weight, irritability, decreased fetal head circumference, and exposure to chemicals like lead, pesticides, and herbicides.
Our first focus should be to treat pregnant women of her deficiencies by supplementing her diet with iron and mineral rich foods and providing her vitamin supplements.
Some alternative measures are as follows:
- Treating clay/earth eating i.e. geophagy with raspberry leaf tea, iron rich food like black chana, sea weeds and sea foods.
- Alternative to laundry starch (pagophagy) can be ice and frozen fruit pops.
Craving for chalk, powder, etc. can be treated with replacing it with chewing calcium tablets and iron rich fruits, dried berries.
- Other preferred items to be used are flat dry bread, flour, nuts, ground nuts, chewing tablets, saunf and dried fruits.
- Alternatives for Paint craving: If a pregnant woman craves for paint or anything similar, then she should see her doctor for a blood test. She shouldn’t smell or eat any form of paint or solvent – it can be dangerous for her body and even cause serious solvent addictions. If one really can’t resist – try and only smell fresh paint in an open, ventilated area, from a distance. One also can try products like food dye, which are safe for human consumption.
So, what’s the most effective way to determine what the matter is? Seeing your doctor is the first step – the doctor can do a blood test and let the pregnant woman know what her body is lacking. Usually the reasons for cravings are easy to spot and one can either increase her intake of the lacking nutrient through diet or by taking supplements.