Eating Ice When Pregnant: Safety, Reasons, Benefits And Risks

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Pagophagia, the most common type of pica during pregnancy, is a term used to describe the habit of eating ice while pregnant. Pica is an unusual craving for non-edible items, such as toothpaste, chalk, and soil, and some women experience it during pregnancy.

Occasionally chewing on ice may be refreshing and help ease some pregnancy-related symptoms such as morning sickness. However, frequent consumption of cold items during pregnancy may be harmful. Read on to know the reasons, risks, and management of this ice-eating habit in pregnancy.

Is It Safe To Eat Ice When Pregnant?

Ice consumption is among the most common types of pica during pregnancy, along with raw starches and earth (1). While usually this pica is not dangerous, consult a medical professional if the craving lasts for more than a week.

Having hematinic sometimes relaxes the pica, if it was specifically due to anemia (low hemoglobin levels).

Do Ice Cravings Indicate Pregnancy?

Ice craving commonly appears early on in the pregnancy though it is often ignored. A study reported that 215 out of 281 participants indulged in pica practices during pregnancy, of which 54% consumed ice during pregnancy (2). However, ice craving is not a reliable sign of pregnancy. Hence, it is recommended to take a pregnancy test.

Why Do Pregnant Women Crave Ice?

Though various cultural, physiological, nutritional, and psychological theories explore the causes for ice craving in pregnancy, the exact cause is unknown (2).

Ice cravings in pregnant women could be the body’s way of communicating underlying nutrient deficiencies. For example, a study found associations between ice cravings and iron deficiency anemia and suggested that chewing ice causes vascular changes in the brain that increase alertness in anemic patients (3). Having a blood transfusion sometimes relaxes the pica.

Some of the illnesses associated with pregnancy that may induce ice cravings are (2) (4) (5) (6)

  • Morning sickness
  • Iron deficiency with or without anemia
  • Heartburn or acid reflux
  • Burning mouth syndrome
  • Stress or emotional distress

Some neurological conditions, such as obsessive-compulsive disorders, might manifest through pica. In addition, African-American women are more likely to experience pica in pregnancy than other ethnicities (7).

Are There Any Benefits To Eating Ice?

Ice consumption has the following benefits (8):

  • Soothes the body and lowers the core temperature

Though eating ice offers hydration, it is not a replacement for drinking water (9). Additionally, frequent ice consumption can lead to health problems.

What Are The Risks Of Excessive Ice Consumption In Pregnancy?

The following are some of the complications associated with ice consumption during pregnancy (7) (10) (11) (12):

  • Damage to the teeth and enamel
  • Gum infection and cavities
  • Jaw alterations
  • Depletion of electrolytes in the body, causing uncommon complications such as seizures
  • Metabolic disorders such as lead enrichment and poisoning
  • According to one study, the head circumference of such babies may be smaller than average.
  • Prone to gastrointestinal complications

How Can The Urge To Consume Ice When Pregnant Be Managed?

The treatment for the pica of ice consumption may vary based on the cause for the urge. An experienced medical practitioner should warrant if the symptoms require intervention during pregnancy. The pica of chewing ice can be managed by (7)

  • Testing for deficiencies: If iron deficiency is found, restoring the nutrient and electrolyte balance by eating iron-rich food and consuming iron supplements can help.
  • Counseling: The pica could have a psychological origin. Hence, consultation with a psychiatrist followed by counseling and assessment is recommended. Additionally, psychoactive drugs such as antidepressants may help reduce the symptoms.

Ice consumption is a common eating disorder, mostly seen in the initial period of pregnancy. Its exact cause is unknown and is harmless if practiced in moderation. However, pica could indicate a mineral deficiency or low hemoglobin levels. Though women generally keep their pica habits private, consider visiting your doctor if the symptoms persist for over a month.

Key Pointers

  • Studies show that about 54% of pregnant women crave ice as part of the unusual pregnancy longings.
  • Craving ice during pregnancy can be due to certain underlying conditions such as iron deficiency, stress, or heartburn.
  • Although common, it can result in tooth damage, jaw displacement, and a loss of electrolytes in the body.
  • Consulting a therapist or deficiency test may help you cope with your ice cravings.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Practices of pica among pregnant women in a tertiary healthcare facility in Ghana.
    https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/nop2.451
  2. Pagophagia And Hemoglobin Levels In Pregnant Women.
    https://athenacommons.muw.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1041&context=msn-projects
  3. Pagophagia improves neuropsychological processing speed in iron-deficiency anemia.
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306987714002710
  4. Nutrient intake in women with pagophagia and other forms of pica during the pregnancy.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18051989/
  5. Ask the doctor: What causes a craving for ice?
    https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/what-causes-a-craving-for-ice
  6. Nocturnal Pagophagia Complicating Gastric Bypass.
    https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(11)60774-X/fulltext
  7. What are the pharmacologic options for managing pica in pregnant women?
    https://dig.pharmacy.uic.edu/faqs/2020-2/november-2020-faqs/what-are-the-pharmacologic-options-for-managing-pica-in-pregnant-women/
  8. Crushed ice ingestion – a practical strategy for lowering core body temperature.
    https://jmvh.org/article/crushed-ice-ingestion-a-practical-strategy-for-lowering-core-body-temperature/
  9. Why is eating ice not the same as drinking water?
    https://www.mvorganizing.org/why-is-eating-ice-not-the-same-as-drinking-water/
  10. Is chewing ice bad for you?
    https://www.affinitydental.co.za/is-chewing-ice-bad-for-you/
  11. Pica/Pagophagia-Associated Hyponatremia: Patient Presenting With Seizure.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7384452/
  12. Are anemia gastrointestinal disorders and pregnancy outcome associated with pica behavior?
    https://content.iospress.com/articles/journal-of-neonatal-perinatal-medicine/npm190257
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Dr. Annal Vaidya

(MS)
Dr. Annal Vaidya is a former assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the prestigious Seth GS Medical College and KEM Hospital, Mumbai. He currently works as a consultant in various hospitals in the city. Dr. Vaidya specializes in managing high-risk pregnancies, infertility, and complicated pregnancies. He has a special interest in Cosmetic Gynecology and Endoscopy.

Anshuman Mohapatra

Anshuman Mohapatra is a biotechnology scientist with more than six years of research experience in analytical chemistry and biotechnology. He has submitted his Ph.D thesis at the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati (IIT Guwahati) and served as a research fellow (JRF/SRF) during his Ph.D tenure. His research interest includes analytical chemistry, neurobiology and lipid disorder diseases. Three of his research... more

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