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Pica: Disorder or Craving?

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When my mom was pregnant with me, she would eat and eat and eat. I remember when I asked her what she ate during her pregnancy , and she said she always went to Long John Silvers everyday for a piece of fish. Now with her eating fish everyday, she has no taste for seafood anymore. Cravings are common for pregnancy, but pica is not your common craving. Pica is defined as an eating disorder that involves eating items that are not typically thought of as food and that do not contain significant nutritional value such as hair, dirt, and paint chips. This can be a craving to some but for others, it can be a trip to the hospital.

From the article Pica: Causes, Common Cravings and Risks During Pregnancy by the American Pregnancy Association, pica can be a common pregnancy craving for most pregnant women. The article states that 25-30% of all pregnant women usually have a pica craving with their first child. The pica crave is normal in children/adult disorders which is about 35%. According to the American Dietetic Association, pica can be caused by low iron or an iron deficiency meaning the woman has little to no iron left in her body to stay healthy. Some of the cravings, however, can be the body’s attempt to obtain vitamins and minerals that are missing from other foods being eaten. Some pica cravings in pregnant women include burnt matches, stones, charcoal, ice, baking soda, and soap. This is because most of these are a soft, crunchy item. The main cravings are dirt, clay, or laundry starch or the softener. Even though these items are wonderful to some women, it can cause harm to the baby as well. The items can contain toxic or parasitic ingredients that can cause birth defects or disorders.

On the other hand, pica can also form as a disorder to others as well. In the article Pica by the National Eating Disorder Association, children are the most common to be developed with a disorder caused by pica. This is because the pregnant woman  eating a pica craving or by putting things in the mouth that are not nutritional. Between 4-26% of children suffer a disorder (intellectual disability, autism, schizophrenia, etc.) from eating some type of crave that has been digested for at least a month. Most problems children suffer from eating is poisoning, typically lead poisoning from things such as old paint, parasites that can cause major brain disorders from eating soil or animal droppings, and sometimes unusual infections that are caused by eating soil.

Pica may be a craving, but the situation of having a disorder to you or the child is more important. Parents should always teach their children what is and is not safe to eat, explain the difference between food items and non-food items such as blocks or toys, and offer the child plenty of nutritious meals and snacks so the pica does not get any worse or starts. Pregnant women should also consult a doctor about the weird cravings and how to prevent hurting their child and themselves. Pica is harmful and next time you see a child eating dirt or sand, please stop them!

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1 Comment

One Response to “Pica: Disorder or Craving?”

  1. Mari Karmel on February 13th, 2018 8:35 am

    This is such an interesting article. I had no idea any of this was real, but now I can see where that would come from. I think I was in shock the entire time while reading this! Great job!

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Pica: Disorder or Craving?