Weird Chalk Craving: Is it Safe to Eat Chalk during Pregnancy?

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If you are craving chalk during a pregnancy instead of ice cream, you may be micronutrient deficient.  The non-food item craving during pregnancy is referred to as ‘Pica.’ Find out whether it is safe to eat chalk during pregnancy and how to satisfy your craving.

Are you feeling guilty of junk food cravings during pregnancy? At least you have edible food cravings. Some pregnant women crave non-food items such as chalk, dirt, paint chip, baby powder, and charcoal.  

These non-food item craving during pregnancy is medically known ‘Pica,’ a type of eating disorder.

In this article, we talk about why you crave chalk during pregnancy, the risk of eating chalk during pregnancy, and how to satisfy chalk craving during pregnancy.

Related reading: 7 Reasons Why it is harmful to Skip Meals during Pregnancy

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Cravings for Chalk during Pregnancy – Is it normal?

While cravings for ice cream, chips, pickles, and chocolates are considered pregnancy trademarks, non-food cravings, such as chalk, dirt, paint chips, cotton balls, are considered eating disorders.

And when you have an intense urge to eat non-food items such as chalk during pregnancy, – is a medical condition known as ‘pica.’

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, pica is an eating disorder characterized by cravings or consumption of non-food items with little to no nutritional value.

The most common non-food cravings during pregnancy are chalk, ice, and cornstarch. Some women find eating earthy items like chalk, dirt, sand, rock, clay, ash, charcoal (a condition known as geophagy) satisfying during pregnancy. At the same time, others crave freezer frost, ice (a condition known as pagophagy).

So, is it normal to crave chalk during pregnancy?

Maybe not. The chalk craving or non-food item craving during pregnancy may indicate an underlying health issue. If you are craving or consuming chalk during pregnancy, you need to discuss the issue with your doctor.

What Causes Chalk Craving or Pica during Pregnancy?

The exact cause of pica during pregnancy or otherwise is unknown. But it is believed to be an underlying micronutrient deficiency or other physical or psychological issues.

Let’s first look at the three main nutrient deficiencies linked to pica.

Iron Deficiency

Many studies have linked iron deficiency anemia to pica (1,2). Pregnant women are at increased risk of nutrient deficiencies, particularly iron, because of the body’s increased demand for fetal growth and those with significant morning sickness.

Iron deficiency can lead to pica symptoms- an increased consumption or craving of chalk or earthy non-food items. And again, chalk contains little iron, to begin with.

And consumption of chalk or clay further decreases the absorption of dietary iron during pregnancy by binding to the mucosal layer of the gut. The non-food materials can also absorb micronutrients in ingested food, preventing them from being metabolized (3,4).

So, pica behavior, its association with nutrition deficiency, and the direction or relationship are poorly understood.

But nutrition deficiency, in this case, anemia, can lead to an increased risk of pre-term birth, low birth weight during pregnancy, and neurological defects in babies (5,6).

Zinc Deficiency

A review of studies including 6,000 people (pregnant women and children) with pica linked the pica symptoms to decreased red blood cell count and lower zinc levels in the blood. This review clearly suggests pica as a risk for Zinc deficiency. Zinc deficiency during pregnancy could lead to diminished immune function (7).

Calcium Deficiency

Chalk is made of calcium carbonate, and you might think that craving for chalk during pregnancy has something to do with calcium deficiency.

You might be right!!

While chalk eating is mainly linked to iron and zinc deficiency, calcium deficiency is also reported as a trigger for eating chalk.

Now let’s look at physical and psychological causes of pica during pregnancy

Cultural Beliefs

Eating dirt or chalky substance is an ancient practice in some cultures, and they believe it to be good for their health. These beliefs come from the times when the soil was used to soothe digestive issues like ulcers, menstrual pain, or diarrhea.  

In some cultures, it is believed that the mineral found in non-food items (geophagy) can enhance fertility, help with nausea (common during pregnancy), and supplement their diet (8).

Poverty

Some experts believe that chalk or dirt eating happens because of famine and poverty. People who don’t have food to eat are drawn to eating chalk or dirt as a solution to a hunger cue.

Stress

stresses woman with one hand on forehead and other says stop
Image by Robin Higgins from Pixabay

Pica is also linked to mental and emotional disorders. The family issue, maternal deprivation, or emotional trauma can lead to pica as a form of comfort (9).

How prevalent is pica during Pregnancy?

According to the American Pregnancy Association, pica is not super common among pregnant women but can occur during pregnancy. However, Pica is more often seen in children and affects around 25-30% of kids under 5.

Also, it is hard to estimate the prevalence of pica during pregnancy as its occurrence depends on culture, location, and how you define pica.

Pica is also an under-reported and under-treated condition, as many do not report it to their health care professional because of fear of being judged.

Is it Safe to eat Chalk during Pregnancy?

Chalk is mainly calcium carbonate and is not considered poisonous in small quantities. But it is a non-food item, and it should not be consumed during pregnancy.

Due to increased nutritional requirements during pregnancy, pregnant women are at an increased risk of developing iron-deficiency anemia. And eating chalk during pregnancy may add to your iron deficiency by interfering with iron absorption from food within the body.

Consuming chalk can also reduce your appetite for healthy food, rendering your body from getting enough vitamins and minerals needed to meet the growing demand during pregnancy.

In addition to rendering your body more prone to iron deficiency, eating chalk can disturb your digestive system and damage your internal organs.

Risk of chalk eating during pregnancy includes,

  • Nutrient deficiency
  • Digestive problems
  • Constipation
  • Tooth decay
  • Lead poisoning
  • Loss of appetite
  • Infection
  • Malnutrition

How to diagnose pica during Pregnancy?

If you have an overwhelming urge to start eating chalk or other non-food items, it’s a red flag. And when you start giving in to your non-food cravings, it is clear that you might have pica during pregnancy.

When non-food item cravings and eating becomes a repeated pattern, then you need to seek professional help. The underlying cause of pica can be anything from nutritional deficiency to mental stress to coping with unwanted feelings; it’s best to talk to a health care professional.

Usually, once you discuss your non-food carvings and eating pattern with your doctor, they will order a blood test to determine nutrient deficiency as the first step of pica diagnosis.

How is Chalk Eating treated during Pregnancy?

Depending upon the cause of cravings/chalk eating, a treatment plan is recommended. If blood tests reveal nutrient deficiency, the doctor will prescribe supplements. Few studies have shown that supplements can correct nutrient deficiency and end pica behavior (10,11).

If iron deficiency is suspected of chalk eating during pregnancy, you can take iron supplements or consume iron-rich food.

Here are some iron-rich foods you can include in your diet.

  • Leafy green vegetable
  • Beans, legumes
  • Whole grain
  • Dried fruit
  • Iron-fortified cereals and bread
  • Read meat

And when the reason for chalk eating is suspected to be something else such as mental stress, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or family issue, your doctor can prescribe medication or a therapist depending upon your case.

How to Satisfy Chalk Cravings during Pregnancy?

If your chalk craving is determined to be nutrient deficiencies on your blood test report, taking supplements may help to reduce your craving during pregnancy.

For example, if iron deficiency is the reason for your chalk craving, you can include iron-rich food in your diet and supplement to satisfy your cravings.

Sometimes pregnancy cravings are hard to not give in to. And if your chalk craving is not letting you sleep at night, you may want to consider a potential substitute for chalk cravings such as tums, Rolaids, Maalox, or canned chickpeas. They taste somewhat like chalk.

You can also try chewing on sugarless gum to satisfy your cravings. Again, it’s all about making a healthy choice for you and your baby during pregnancy. Also, try chewable prenatal vitamins as some women found it helpful to satisfy their urge to chew.

If nothing works, you may want to try edible chalk. They are made with no additives, impurities and are probably the safe alternative to traditional chalk. In addition, it tastes like chalk and might help satisfy your chalk craving during pregnancy.

Before you get excited about eating edible chalk to satisfy your craving, keep in mind that it can still interfere with nutrient absorption of food in your body, thereby rendering required nutrients to rich your baby during pregnancy.

Does pica go away after Pregnancy?

In pregnant women, pica may go away on its own after the birth of your baby. With proper supplements and diet, it can disappear in few months. In some pregnant women, pica can disappear without any treatment.

However, pica can persist for several years in an individual with an intellectual disability. Long-term pica can result in serious digestive issues such as ulcers, bowel obstruction, lead poisoning, or heavy metal toxicity, depending on the type of non-food item consumption.  

  • Is it Safe to eat Chalk during Pregnancy? – Conclusion

While chalk is not poisonous in small quantities, it is still a non-food item with little nutritional value and associated with the digestive issue. And if you are experiencing an increased craving for chalk during pregnancy or giving in your craving, it may indicate underlying nutrition deficiency or other psychological issues.

Talk to your doctor if you crave chalk during pregnancy because you might only need iron supplements to satisfy your craving.

What craving do you have during pregnancy? Let us know in a comment below and share this article with someone in need.

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Is it Safe to Eat Chalk during Pregnancy?

References:

  1. Kettaneh A, Eclache V, Fain O, Sontag C, Uzan M, Carbillon L, Stirnemann J, Thomas M. Pica and food craving in patients with iron-deficiency anemia: a case-control study in France. Am J Med. 2005 Feb;118(2):185-8. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2004.07.050. PMID: 15694906.
  2. Reynolds RD, Binder HJ, Miller MB, Chang WW, Horan S. Pagophagia and iron deficiency anemia. Ann Intern Med. 1968 Sep;69(3):435-40. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-69-3-435. PMID: 5244572.
  3. Hunter JM. Geophagy in Africa and the United States: A culture-nutrition hypothesis. Geogr Rev. 1973;63:170–95.
  4. Cavdar AO, Arcasoy A, Cin S, Babacan E, Gözdasoğlu S. Geophagia in Turkey: iron and zinc deficiency, iron and zinc absorption studies and response to treatment with zinc in geophagia cases.Prog Clin Biol Res. 1983; 129():71-97.
  5. Allen LH.Anemia and iron deficiency: effects on pregnancy outcome.Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 May; 71(5 Suppl):1280S-4S.
  6. Lozoff B, Beard J, Connor J, Barbara F, Georgieff M, Schallert T.Long-lasting neural and behavioral effects of iron deficiency in infancy. Nutr Rev. 2006 May; 64(5 Pt 2):S34-43; discussion S72-91.
  7. Salgueiro MJ, Zubillaga M, Lysionek A, Sarabia MI, Caro R, De Paoli T, Hager A, Weill R, Boccio J. Zinc as an essential micronutrient: A review. Nutr Res. 2000;20:737–55.
  8. Geissler PW, Prince RJ, Levene M, Poda C, Beckerleg SE, Mutemi W, Shulman CE. Perceptions of soil-eating and anemia among pregnant women on the Kenyan coast. Soc Sci Med. 1999 Apr;48(8):1069-79. DOI: 10.1016/s0277-9536(98)00409-2. PMID: 10390045.
  9. Singhi S, Singhi P, Adwani GB. Role of psychosocial stress in the cause of pica. Clin Pediatr (Phila). 1981 Dec;20(12):783-5. doi: 10.1177/000992288102001205. PMID: 7307412.
  10. Advani S, Kochhar G, Chachra S, Dhawan P. Eating everything except food (PICA): A rare case report and review. J Int Soc Prev Community Dent. 2014;4(1):1-4. doi:10.4103/2231-0762.127851
  11. Lofts RH, Schroeder SR, Maier RH. Effects of serum zinc supplementation on pica behavior of persons with mental retardation. Am J Ment Retard. 1990 Jul;95(1):103-9. PMID: 2386628.

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