PICA: Why Women eat Weird Things During Pregnancy
Have you ever ate so much that your tummy looks like a cute baby bump and you wish to experience that someday? Well, you’re not alone.
The journey of 9 months is a beautiful one and the fun part is you get to monitor and document your tummy grow, anticipate your baby’s delivery or indulge in pregnancy cravings.
During pregnancy, hormones become unstable and this affects the way women perceive the aroma of certain food which may sometimes bring about irritation that leads to nausea or vomiting.
For some women, the least favorite can become the best and the most frequent go –to meal and in some cases, vice versa.
Cravings are also expected to occur due to the hormonal fluctuations. They can be dramatic, one moment you feel like eating a bowl of cereal and in another; you would rather have plain bread.
On the other hand, an abnormal craving called Pica is common during pregnancy. It involves craving and consuming non-edible substances that offer no nutrients.
In this article, we examine all there is to know about Pica in pregnancy and what to do when abnormal cravings come knocking.
What exactly is PICA?
Pica refers to a habit of eating non-edible items which can be harmless (ice) or dangerous to health from consuming rock or metal.
Originating from the Latin word “Magpie”; which is one of the species of bird that can eat almost anything, it is triggered by pregnancy in most women
It is not limited to pregnant women; in fact, it is common among children and can affect adults too.
Types of PICA
Due to the fact cravings differ from person to person, there are several types of Pica, some of which include:
- Geophagia; This refers to the intentional eating of soil, clay and chalk like substances.
This habit is usually practiced as part of culture in some parts of the world especially in the Southern US and Central Africa.
There are myths surrounding this habit and they include; eating dirt increases sexual ability in men and helping pregnant women to have a smooth delivery.
- Pagophagia; Refers to excessively eating ice or iced drinks.
This craving is often attributed to having iron-deficiency anemia.
If you have noticed taking lots of cold drinks during pregnancy or know someone who does, chances are that she may be anemic and needs treatment.
- Amylophagia; Is the excessive eating of starch or carbohydrate rich foods such as licking/eating/drinking custard powder.
It is often associated with deficiency of zinc and iron also.
Other types of pica include eating;
- Metal (coins or cutlery)
- Laundry starch
These can be very dangerous to health due to the risk of esophageal/intestinal blockage or exposure to toxins they contain.
Causes of PICA in Pregnancy
Pica usually arises from a mixture of cultural, nutritional, psychological and psychopathological factors.
Pica in pregnancy is often attributed to malnutrition but it can occur when there are no nutritional deficiencies.
Psychologically, some pregnant women feel drawn to certain non-edible substances because they enjoy their taste, smell and texture.
Psychopathologically, people who have mental disorders such as schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder tend to eat non-edible substances too.
Generally, cravings either for edible or non-edible substances (pica) usually starts in the first 3 months (1st trimester) of pregnancy, the urge from cravings tend to increase in the 2nd trimester between 13-28 weeks but subsides in the third trimester, especially form 29 weeks.
Will it happen to me when I get Pregnant?
You may begin to wonder if all pregnant women will have this experience, well, there are cases where one is likely to have this condition;
- If your mother or grandmother experienced Pica, chances are you might as well.
- If you are always dieting or lack essential nutrient while been pregnant.
- If you believe eating certain substances is important according to your culture.
When do I need to see a Doctor?
Pica is often seen as a problem when a person;
- Keeps eating substances of no nutritional value for more than a month
- Does not find it pleasing or necessary to eat normal food
- Starts eating things with no apparent support from socially acceptable practices like eating clay
If you are experiencing abnormal cravings, please refrain from asking your neighbors or family members because they might be perceive it as a normal happening with no cause for alarm or encourage it. It’s best to seek advice from a certified health professional.
Most women find it weird to tell their Doctor or Midwife that they are eating soil or chalk for fear of been chastised but it is best to be open with them so as to treat the bad effects that may have accumulated in your body to strictly monitor your electrolytes and to prevent damages to your organs and baby.
How is PICA Treated?
At first, it basically involves treating or ruling out complications that occurs from PICA which include; Poisoning, Choking, Parasitic Infections and Blockage of the intestines.
Secondly, diagnosing the actual cause to determine the following step of treatment is the next move.
If nutritional deficiency is found to be the cause, nutritional supplements will be prescribed. If it were to be a psychopathological problem, medications managing behavioral problems may help stop or decrease the desire to eat non-edible items.
Will PICA continue after Pregnancy?
Most times, no. It usually resolves after giving birth.
However, if it persists, it might become a mental eating disorder that requires treatment.
Remember, cravings are natural and can be exciting when you eat the right food containing adequate nutrients but when you start consuming substances of no or little benefits, you may need help as it may harm you or the baby.
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