Q: What is pica?
A: Pica is a condition that can occur during pregnancy when a mom-to-be starts to crave non-food substances, like ice, paint chips, laundry soap, wax, or starch. Although pregnancy cravings (like pickles and ice cream) or aversions for food are very common -- nearly 70 percent of women report having some kind of food obsession -- pica is pretty rare, but it can be dangerous. Though we don't know the exact cause, it's thought that pica may be related to a nutritional deficiency, like not getting enough iron. In this case, treatment is simple, and involves taking iron supplements to curb the cravings. However, pica can also occur among pregnant women with psychiatric or developmental problems, which are more complicated to fix.
There's still a lot of mystery surrounding pica and the biggest concern is that a pregnant woman may be too embarrassed by her cravings to share them with her doctor, which can endanger her health and her baby's. It's important to remember that no matter what you experience during pregnancy -- or how weird it seems -- you should always let your doctor know.