Bizarre cravings during pregnancy can be treated

NEW YORK -- Many women crave foods like pickles or ice cream during pregnancy. But in some cases, the cravings can take a much more bizarre turn.

CBS2 New York's Dr. Max Gomez reports some pregnant women develop an overwhelming urge to eat things like dirt, paper, clay or other unusual items.

Chrissy Kurtz doesn't have a problem with it now, but when she was pregnant, gardening was a challenge. She was overcome by an urge to eat the dirt.

"There were a couple times that I actually did, just because it just was overwhelming -- you know, the craving, that gritty taste," she said. "So yeah, it was crazy."

The condition is called pica, and it's defined as a desire to eat non-food items. The Centers for Disease Control says pica occurs most frequently in young children, who usually outgrow it, but pregnant women may develop it too.

Though the cravings sound unusual, the condition itself is surprisingly common.

"Some women feel ashamed to talk to you about it, and so we don't really know, but people say anywhere between 8 and 80 percent of pregnancies can be associated with this condition," said Dr. Melissa Goist, an OB-GYN at The Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center.

Goist has seen women craving everything from dirt to ashes, rubber bands, paper and even powdered laundry detergent.

Most of the time, it's simply caused by low levels of zinc or iron and is easily treated.

"We can draw some labs, and then most women I will put on an iron supplement," Goist said. "And a lot of them actually tend to start to feel better or have less of those kind of cravings -- weird cravings."

Kurtz satisfied her cravings for gritty texture by eating antacids instead of dirt. As soon as her son was born, the cravings went away.

"Educate yourself and realize that it's not that big of a deal," she said. "It is a craving that will pass."

Most of the time, eating small amounts of things like paper or dirt isn't harmful. Doctors are more concerned by things that contain chemicals, such as detergent, or are hard to digest, such as rubber bands.

Gomez said pregnant women should tell their doctors about their cravings, no matter how strange, because treatment can help.