Pregnancy can bring about unusual cravings for non-food items, such as toothpaste, chalk, or soil, called pica. Pagophagia is among the most common types of pica during pregnancy and is characterized by a craving for ice.
Occasionally chewing ice can be refreshing and help control some pregnancy-related illnesses, such as morning sickness. However, regular consumption of cold items during pregnancy can be harmful.
Read this post to understand the reasons for ice cravings and the risks and management of eating ice when pregnant.
Is It Safe To Eat Ice When Pregnant?
Ice consumption is among the most common types of pica during pregnancy along with the consumption of raw starches and earth (1). While it is safe to occasionally indulge in this pica, consult a medical professional if the craving lasts for more than a month.
Having a blood transfusion sometimes relaxes the pica.
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.
- Morning sickness
- Iron deficiency with or without anemia
- Low hemoglobin level
- 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
- Hydrates the body
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?
- 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.
- Practices of pica among pregnant women in a tertiary healthcare facility in Ghana.
- Pagophagia And Hemoglobin Levels In Pregnant Women.
- Pagophagia improves neuropsychological processing speed in iron-deficiency anemia.
- Nutrient intake in women with pagophagia and other forms of pica during the pregnancy.
- Ask the doctor: What causes a craving for ice?
- Nocturnal Pagophagia Complicating Gastric Bypass.
- What are the pharmacologic options for managing pica in pregnant women?
- Crushed ice ingestion – a practical strategy for lowering core body temperature.
- Why is eating ice not the same as drinking water?
- Is chewing ice bad for you?
- Pica/Pagophagia-Associated Hyponatremia: Patient Presenting With Seizure.
- Are anemia gastrointestinal disorders and pregnancy outcome associated with pica behavior?