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You Want to Eat What?!?
Pregnancy Cravings Gone Too Far
By Meagan Francis

When Kari (not her real name) found herself drawn to her laundry soap near the end of her second pregnancy, she didn't think much of it. "I found that I really liked the way my laundry soap smelled more than normal," says Kari. After her baby was born, her soap's mysterious allure disappeared.

Less than a year later, Kari, again pregnant, began to notice that her laundry detergent was once more unusually appealing. At first she smelled it as much as she could while doing the laundry; then she found herself going into the laundry room a few times a day to "get a sniff." Soon, she found herself smelling the soap obsessively and began to fantasize about eating it.

"I was sniffing it at least 20 times a day," says Kari. "Then I felt like I had to taste it. Just thinking about it made my mouth water."

Strange obsessions
There is a name for Kari's strange obsession: pica. Taken from the Latin word for magpie (a bird with strange eating habits), pica is a condition that causes strong cravings for non-food items with little or no nutritional value. It affects a small but significant percentage of pregnant women. Some of the most common cravings include clay, dirt, laundry starch and ice, but women with pica have also been known to crave paint chips, ashes, toothpaste, plaster, coffee grounds, wax, hair, soap and cigarette butts.

A special kind of hunger
The reason pica happens isn't known for certain, but it has been linked to certain nutritional deficiencies such as low iron. "The ingestion of ice (pagophagia), starch (amylophagia) or clay (geophagia) is felt to be due to iron deficiency," says Dr. Kenneth Johnson, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the College of Osteopathic Medicine at Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. "Once the deficiency is corrected, these bizarre cravings usually end."

Sometimes, however, no nutritional deficiencies can be found -- meaning the woman has to wait out the cravings. This can pose a health risk, as giving in to pica cravings can be dangerous. Many of the items on the list, like clay and starch, can interfere with nutrient absorption and lead to dietary deficiencies; others, such as dirt and paint chips, can lead to parasitic disease, bowel blockage or lead poisoning. Even ice, although non-toxic, can lead to iron deficiencies if consumed in large amounts.

But while non-food cravings often point to a dietary problem and can be dangerous, cravings for uncommon foods are generally benign. "Other cravings for unusual foods like pickles have no serious consequences," says Dr. Johnson.

Finding some comfort
In Kari's case, the obsession became frightening. She began inhaling the powdered soap and craved it more daily.

"I had visions of putting it all over my cereal in the morning," she says. "I felt like I had a drug problem. I was scared that I might be hurting my baby."

Still, Kari was too afraid to confide in family or friends for months. She finally told her husband, who got rid of the powdered laundry soap and bought a liquid variety to which Kari had no attraction at all. Turning to the internet, she was relieved to find that her condition has a name.

"I am glad to know that I'm not just crazy," she says.
Since nobody is quite sure what causes pica, there is no tried-and-true treatment method. If you are experiencing strange cravings for a non-food item, the first thing you should do is resist the urge to eat it! Remove the item from your home, or have your partner get rid of it.

Next, tell your health care provider about what you are experiencing. He or she may be able to recommend a dietary supplement to help you, and talking about the problem may help you feel better and come up with ways to combat the cravings. And if you've already consumed a non-food item, be sure to tell your health care provider. Remember, you aren't alone -- and in most cases, your cravings will pass as soon as your baby makes his arrival.

© Meagan Francis; first appeared at ePregnancy.com

NFO eUpdate newsletter Editor Meagan Francis is a freelance writer who has been published in magazines like Brain,Child, Skirt! and ePregnancy. Read more about Meagan.

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The information appearing at Natural Family Online™ is for educational purposes only and is not intended to serve as a substitute for professional medical advice. Please review the rest of our disclaimer and user agreement.


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