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I’ve been craving inedible items like clay and dirt. What the heck is going on?

Excerpt from Asking for a Pregnant Friend: 101 Answers to Questions Women Are Too Embarrassed to Ask about Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood

A craving for nonfood items does not mean you’re losing your mind, it means you’re likely experiencing a type of eating disorder called pica. While rare, pica can crop up during pregnancy, surprising women by summoning the desire to eat clay, dirt, cornstarch, laundry detergent, and other inedible items. And although ice isn’t inedible, a regular craving for it could also be linked to pica. For some women, pica pushes them beyond cravings, causing them to actually eat their substance of choice.

These cravings are often caused by a deficiency in iron, zinc, iodine, calcium, thiamine, vitamin C, or other nutrients. Pregnant women, especially those with pre-existing conditions or chronic morning sickness, are prone to these deficiencies. I had an intense desire to chow down on snow during my pregnancy. Come to find out, I was anemic.

Pica requires immediate attention, as a lack of nutrients can cause uncomfortable symptoms and impact fetal growth. In addition, ingesting inedible items could be toxic for the mother and baby.

What to do

See your care provider ASAP. They will likely order tests to see if you’re deficient in iron, zinc, iodine, or other nutrients, in addition to performing other evaluations they deem necessary. When nutritional deficiencies are found, care providers typically recommend diet changes or supplements. If they suspect a part of the issue is psychological, they might refer you to a mental health specialist.

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