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The weird phenomenon of 'Pica'

Ice. Sand. Dirt. Bark. Chalk. What about them? Well, would you believe, they are all things you might like to eat if you were suffering from the weird phenomenon of Pica.

What’s Pica?

Pica is the craving of non-food items that have absolutely no nutritional benefit. The word Pica comes from the latin word for Magpie, because the Magpie is a bird that is notorious for eating pretty much anything.

Pica is common in children and women, and it’s particularly common in pregnancy. It affects about 4% of women in pregnancy. To meet the formal definition of Pica, the phenomenon has to be present for greater than one month, it has to be deemed to be not developmentally appropriate and it has to be deemed to be culturally inappropriate.

So, what causes it? We don’t really know. There’s not a lot of research on it. We think it could possibly be related to some sort of mineral deficiency, so the person then seeks to find something unusual that may have that mineral present in it.

There’s some thought it might be related to an iron deficiency. There is also suggestion it may be some sort of psychological disorder, although obviously you don’t need to have a psychological disorder to suffer from Pica.

The problems with Pica are that:

  • firstly, it’s weird. If you start chowing down on sand in front of people, you’re going to be freaking them out.
  • secondly, if you are really into it and you’re not having any nutritional food, it causes nutritional deficiencies.
  • finally, it can cause infection and also gastrointestinal obstructions and problems with your gastrointestinal system.

So, it should be discouraged.

Interestingly, the pre-term delivery rate for women that suffer from Pica, delivering beneath 35 weeks, is about twice as high as it is in other people.

Here’s an interesting fact. Kenyan stones called Odowa are actually sold in markets in Kenya where pregnant women can buy them to eat!


Dr Brad Robinson

Obstetrician Gynaecologist


Pica in pregnancy blog by Dr Brad Robinson, Brisbane Obstetrician Gynaecologist

To speak directly with a team member please call 07 3188 5000