1. What’s up with Pica?

Pica is the name for a condition in which a person craves nonfood substances, such as dirt (geophagia), soap, laundry starch, ice, or chalk. The word “pica” actually comes from the Latin word for magpie, a bird known for eating just about anything. Pica is seen in young children and, less commonly, in pregnant women. Pica seems to occur more in African-American women and in those women who have a family or childhood history of pica. Most women have cravings while pregnant, but most crave food substances. Pica cravings are less common, but they do occur. Because pregnant women who practice pica risk the chance of being exposed to toxicants such as lead and other harmful substances, your doctor should be notified immediately if you experience these types of cravings. The most common substances related to pica cravings include dirt, clay, and laundry starch. Others include burnt matches, stones, charcoal, mothballs, ice, cornstarch, soap, sand, toothpaste, plaster, baking soda, paint chips, cigarette ashes, and coffee grounds.

Causes and Effects of Pica

The cause of pica is not really known. There is speculation that pica cravings occur as a result of the body’s attempt to obtain vitamins and minerals that it is not getting from foods. The American Dietetic Association feels there is a possible connection between pica and iron deficiency. Still others suspect pica could be related to probable underlying physical or mental illnesses.

A pregnant woman who gives in to these unusual cravings and eats these nonfood substances can potentially harm herself and her developing fetus. These substances can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from healthy foods and can cause deficiencies. There is also a concern that the substances consumed may contain toxic or parasitic ingredients. These substances can cause all type of problems, such as bowel obstruction, constipation, and intestinal pain.

Ice consumption in large amounts is not toxic to your system, but there is some evidence that women who eat ice daily in amounts of ½ cup to 2 cups have lower levels of iron in the blood in the second and third trimesters.

What to Do About Pica Cravings

If you experience these abnormal cravings, the first thing to do is inform your doctor immediately. Gather as much information as possible about the specific risks associated with your specific craving. Do not be embarrassed to speak to your doctor about your unusual cravings! If you have been consuming any of these substances, you may need to be tested and/or monitored for toxic substances you have ingested.

Your doctor may monitor you for nutritional deficiencies. She also may assess your iron intake along with your intake of other vitamin and minerals through both supplements and healthy foods. Try to find substitutes for your cravings. Chew sugarless gum or suck on sugarless candy. Inform your spouse or a friend who can help act as support and keep you accountable.

2. Cold and Flu Season

Even if you have the best intentions and take optimal care of yourself, you may not be able to completely protect yourself from catching a cold or the flu virus while you are pregnant. Though you may decrease your chances, you are still vulnerable. Because of changes in your immune system during pregnancy, symptoms from colds and/or the flu can persist longer than normal. Pregnancy also increases the risk of complications from the flu and other viruses. Call your doctor immediately if you come down with any type of illness. Some viruses, such as those that cause chickenpox or Fifth disease, can be more dangerous if contracted during pregnancy. If you come in contact with anyone who is infected with these or any other contagious illness, contact your doctor immediately.

Protecting Yourself

Eating a healthy diet (one that includes all the food groups in proper amounts), drinking plenty of water, and exercising regularly can definitely decrease your chances of becoming sick while you are pregnant. However, you may need to take additional steps and be extra careful during the cold and flu season. Be careful of the contact you have with family or friends, including children, who may be sick. Wash your hands regularly to lessen the risk of coming in contact with virus germs, especially in public places. Make your visits to crowded places less frequent, as they can be a breeding ground for germs.

If you will be more than three months pregnant during the flu season, you should talk to your doctor about getting a flu shot. If you have medical problems such as diabetes that can increase your risk of complications from the flu, talk to your doctor about getting a flu shot, no matter what trimester you are in.

Because flu shots are actually made from inactivated viruses, many doctors consider the flu shot safe during all stages of pregnancy. However, since miscarriages most often occur in the first trimester of pregnancy, most doctors do not routinely administer flu shots during the first trimester to avoid any possible problems. There seems to be no harm to the baby if the vaccine is given while you are breastfeeding. Speak to your doctor before getting a flu shot.

Measures to Take

Classic flu symptoms such as fever, severe muscle aches, nasal congestion, upper respiratory symptoms, and gastrointestinal symptoms can be bothersome for anyone, but this is especially true for pregnant women. If you do catch a cold or the flu, the following measures will help you to deal more comfortably with your symptoms:

• Increase your fluid intake. Water is important, but beverages such as juice will provide extra fluids and nutrition at a time when you may have a decrease in appetite. Proper hydration can also help to thin out nasal congestion.

• Try to maintain your nutritional intake with small meals throughout the day. Stick to foods that are bland and easily digestible.

• Get plenty of rest.

• If you are having problems with nasal congestion, elevate your head when lying down to help enhance your breathing.

• Use a vaporizer or steam to help loosen congestion.

• Use warm compresses to help alleviate sinus pain caused by congestion.

• For a sore throat, try gargling with warm salt water.

• To ease achy muscles, take a warm bath.

Monitor your body temperature often, and call your doctor if it rises over 101°F. Don’t take any over-the-counter medications until you speak with your doctor, especially if you are still in your first trimester.

If you are experiencing nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea (not associated with common morning sickness) contact your doctor, and make sure you are getting plenty of fluids. It is important to maintain your nutritional intake. A liquid diet, such as juice, water, tea, Jell-O, clear soups or broth, ice chips, Gatorade, and Popsicles during this time can be helpful. Once a clear liquid diet can be tolerated, other foods can be introduced slowly. Once your appetite begins to return, start slowly by introducing food such as milkshakes, toast, dry cereal, and crackers.

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