Do you enjoy eating ice while pregnant but you’re not sure why — other than ‘you just feel like it’?
This article just might help you to demystify this quirky ice crunching habit you’ve formed, so you can finally understand what’s going on inside your body!
The intense urge to eat ice cubes during pregnancy is considered to be a form of pica.
Pica is characterised by eating non-food items such as clay, chalk, soil, paint chips and plaster. The eating habit is thought to be compulsive, and the consumed items hold little in the way of nutritional value.
Pica can affect anyone, though it is most common in children and pregnant women.
Technically speaking, pagophagia is the name given to the eating of ice.
Why do so many women crave eating ice while pregnant?
It is not yet known exactly what causes people to develop pica, and understanding of this condition is somewhat limited.
Some studies have found a link between pica and iron deficiency, indicating that deficiencies may have a role to play in the condition. Interestingly, pica sufferers with low iron levels were not craving or eating items that were naturally high in iron.
One recent study found that non-anemic study participants reported very low rates of pagophagia (4%) whereas anemic participants reported much higher rates (56%). It was also found that crunching on ice gave anaemic study participants a mental boost. Those who were anaemic showed a dramatically improved response time on a neuropsychological test, whereas this wasn’t the case for non-anaemic participants.
How common is pagophagia?
As many as one in five pregnant women find themselves regularly craving ice cubes, making it one of the more popular pregnancy cravings. It has been found that treating the anaemia can reduce the cravings. If you find yourself regularly craving ice, speak to your healthcare provider first, before taking iron supplements. However, while pregnant, it is important that you’re consuming enough iron, ideally from natural sources which are readily absorbed and less likely to result in constipation.
While pregnant, the recommended daily intake of iron is 27mg per day.
Sources of iron include:
- Shellfish (e.g. oysters, clam and mussels)
- Beef, chicken, turkey, fish and lamb
- Cooked legumes (e.g. lentils and chick peas)
- Green vegetables (e.g. broccoli, spinach, silverbeet)
Iron deficiency anemia can affect your mood and concentration, and can cause awful fatigue, headaches, shortness of breath and lethargy — and who needs more of that when you’re already pregnant and tired!
In some instances, the ice craving is nothing to worry about and is no indication of a deficiency, but it’s always worth getting checked out.
Can crunching on ice cubes damage my teeth?
Even if your ice cube habit is not caused by a vitamin deficiency, your dentist probably won’t be too keen on you eating too much ice, as it can put teeth at risk. Human teeth are designed for eating softer food, not chomping down on hard cubes of ice.
Chewing ice can wear down tooth enamel, leaving teeth vulnerable to decay, and even increase sensitivity to hot and cold foods.
Therefore it’s important to remember that while ice is one of the least harmful cravings you can have, there are risks to your teeth and diet, especially if you don’t address a possible underlying cause of anaemia.
A simple blood test is all it takes to check your iron levels. Ask specifically to know the level of ferritin. For an anaemic adult, a ferritin level below 15 μg/L is considered to be iron deficient. Between 15–30 μg/L is highly suggestive.