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December 15, 2015

Melissa GoistCOLUMBUS, Ohio – It’s a well-known fact that many pregnant women have strange cravings, such as pickles, ice cream, hot and spicy combinations, as well as salty items and other comfort foods. For some moms-to-be, hankerings can reach another level.

Experts say as many as 80 percent of pregnant women have strong urges to eat more bizarre items like paper, dirt, clay, ash, hair, rubber bands and laundry detergent. Patients often don’t discuss the topic because of the stigma associated with some of the cravings.

For Chrissy Kurtz of Hamilton, Ohio, an excessive compulsion to eat dirt became overwhelming during her first pregnancy as she was building her new house. Gardening became a challenge because she craved the gritty texture of the soil. 

“I remember this itch to go out into my yard, which didn’t have any sod or grass, and just kind of play in the dirt and have the dirt underneath my fingernails. There were a couple of times when I actually did eat the dirt,” Kurtz said.

Dr. Melissa Goist, an obstetrician and gynecologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, says women can crave non-nutritive items during their pregnancy due to a condition called pica. It’s typically caused by anemia or an iron deficiency and is easily treatable.

“Women will say they long for pickles and ice cream, but it's more likely their body needs some salt or may just want something cold and sweet, or something carbohydrate-rich,” Goist said.

When patients come to her with these odd cravings, she’ll order blood tests and have the lab screen for anemia or an iron deficiency,” Goist said. “Then, she’ll prescribe an iron supplement, which often takes care of the peculiar impulses.

She said eating small amounts of paper or dirt isn’t necessarily harmful, and she’s more concerned about items containing chemicals or that are hard to digest,

“Long-term, things like earth, clay and detergent can be potentially harmful, and can cause some pretty significant gastrointestinal problems for these women,” Goist said.

She said pica is common for women to develop during pregnancy and they shouldn’t be embarrassed to tell their doctors and ask questions.

Kurtz agrees and offers advice for pregnant women with similar experiences.

“Educate yourself and realize it's not that big of a deal. It’s a craving that will pass and nothing to be ashamed of.”


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Contact: Sherri Kirk, Wexner Medical Center Public Affairs and Media Relations, 614-293-3737, or Sherri.Kirk@osumc.edu