Dr. Pamela Smith, ND 

Dr. Pam has a family practice at The Nest Family Wellness Centre which offers naturopathic and midwifery care. She combines science-based natural medicine with conventional medical therapeutics. Learn more about Dr. Pam and the services offered by her clinic here, or book an appointment at www.drpamelasmith.com.

Check out the latest Ask Dr Pam Q&A and posts by topic below as well as her health and wellness posts.

Ask Dr Pam   

What does it mean if I crave dirt or other non-food substances during pregnancy?


The term pica is used to describe the craving and compulsive consumption of non-food substances for greater than one month (2010 Annu. Rev. Nutrition). The exact percentage of pregnant woman with pica world-wide is unknown largely because it goes unreported. It is estimated to be one fifth of all pregnant women but can be as high as 60% in some cultures. For example, in Kenya eating soil is a female practice for fertility and reproduction. 

There are different classifications of pica depending on the substances ingested. The main groups include: 

  • Geophagia – earth (clay, dirt, stones, sand)
  • Pagophagia – ice or freezer frost (most people wouldn't consider this craving to be harmful but pagophagists typically consume anywhere from one cup to one kg of ice per day which can lead to adverse health concerns)
  • Amylophagia – raw starches (corn starch, laundry starch)
  • Other – anything from paint chips, hair, wax, to burnt matches and charcoal. 

The exact cause of non-food cravings during pregnancy is unknown. The most common theory suggests a nutritional deficiency especially for minerals (iron, zinc and calcium) but whether this is a cause or a consequence is undetermined. Another theory suggests pica is a response to stress and anxiety, a nervous habit much like how some people bite their nails. 

There are many risks associated with pica and a few include:

  • Intestinal upset, constipation, bowel obstruction
  • Electrolyte imbalances – can lead to edema, heart and kidney issues
  • Dental concerns such as cracked teeth
  • Gestational diabetes and excessive weight gain – specifically with the amylophagia 
  • Toxic metal ingestion – lead poisoning is very dangerous for the kidneys and brain 
  • Infection – especially with geophagia as many organisms live in the soil including parasites like toxoplasmosis which can damage your baby’s nervous system. 

This blog goes into detail about common food cravings and what they can mean in pregnancy. Inform your healthcare provider if you are craving or consuming a non-food substance or something that you or others find strange. Keep in mind that you are not alone -- it is more common than most people think!