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Pica in Pregnancy: Does It Affect Pregnancy Outcomes?

Corbett, Robin Webb PhD, RN,C; Ryan, Cass PhD, RD, LDN; Weinrich, Sally P. PhD, RN, FAAN

MCN: The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing: May-June 2003 - Volume 28 - Issue 3 - p 183-189
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Purpose To discover the prevalence of pica, the documentation of pica on medical records, and any relationship of pica to pregnancy outcomes in rural socioeconomically disadvantaged pregnant women.

Study Design and Methods Prospective, descriptive, correlational investigation with 128 women who sought prenatal care from two rural community health agencies. Demographic and sociocultural variables, pica practices, pica substances ingested, and pregnancy outcomes were collected.

Results Thirty-eight percent of these pregnant women practiced pica. African-American women reported practicing pica more often than other ethnicities. Substances ingested included ice (>1 cup/day), freezer frost, laundry starch, cornstarch, clay dirt, and baked clay dirt. Polypica (ingestion of more than one substance) was practiced by 11 women. Women practicing pica were more likely to have been underweight prior to pregnancy, and smoked fewer cigarettes. Women reporting daily pica practice were significantly more likely to have lower prenatal hematocrits than women who did not practice pica, or who practiced pica less frequently than daily. No specific pregnancy complication was associated with the practice of pica.

Clinical Implications Pica exists, and might be more common than healthcare providers assume. Although this study did not show specific pregnancy complications associated with pica, other studies have shown anemia and lead poisoning among women who practice pica. It is not clear that patients volunteer information about pica, so it would be helpful if nurses queried patients at each prenatal visit regarding pica practice. Discussion of pica practices should be based on a nonjudgmental model, for pica may have strong cultural implications, and may be practiced for cultural reasons unknown to the nurse.

Robin Webb Corbett is an Associate Professor, School of Nursing, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC. She can be reached at East Carolina University, School of Nursing, Rivers Building, Greenville, NC 27858 (e-mail:

Cass Ryan is a Nutritionist, Kansas University Medical Center, Kansas City, KS.

Sally P. Weinrich is a Professor, School of Nursing, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY.

Research Funded by American Nurses Foundation, Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories Scholar, and the Carolinas Foundation.

© 2003 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.