Does Your Child Have Pica #A2ZChallenge

When a child likes to explore new things they put every second thing in their tiny mouths. While they are eating healthy it is fine but problems may arise when they put non-food in their mouth.

It is a familiar sight to see children build mud and sand castles. They love to play with these castles, decorate them and then, in the end, smash them. Children love to play with mud, in fact, I have seen children who also swim in some muddy pools. This is a very normal feature of every child and we have also grown up doing the same. But what is not normal is the fact when children start eating mud and dirt. This definitely is something to worry about.

This behavioural concern known as Pica is very common in children. It is believed that 10 to 30 per cent of children are affected by this between the ages 1 to 6. The word Pica is derived from the Latin word ‘magpie’ meaning a bird with a fairly large and non-selective appetite. A child may eat dirt and other substances like:

  • Chalk
  • Clay
  • Soap
  • Ice
  • Sand
  • Paper
  • Metal
  • Animal faeces
  • Glue
  • Hair
  • Paint

Though it does not sound harmful just imagine the havoc non-food items can cause. These things could be toxic and cause illnesses, parasitic infections, poisoning and intestinal blockages. Pica is considered as a self-harm behaviour though not deliberate.

Pica becomes common when a child is exploring their taste buds. But this does not mean that each time they put something in their mouth is because of pica.  Pica happens when the normal exploratory stage is crossed and the child craves for non-food items. In some, but not all, cases pica is suggestive of autism and intellectual disabilities.

What Causes Pica in a Child:

There are a number of reasons which can cause pica in a child. Some of them are:

  • For attention
  • Being deprived or neglected by the mother
  • An imbalance in the chemicals of the brain
  • Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Taste developed for certain things
  • Deficiency of iron and zinc

Complications of Pica:

Eating non-food continuously for more than a month can lead to complication in a child. While eating non-food they don’t realise but can give rise to complications like:

  • Nutritional deficiencies especially iron and zinc
  • dental problems like broken, cracked and chipped teeth
  • Lead poisoning
  • Blockage of the intestinal tract
  • Constipation and parasitic infections

How can Pica be Treated:

Pica usually results from an imbalance of the nutrients. Thus it is important to add some supplements to the child’s diet. Other treatment techniques which can be adopted are:

  • Therapy and medication for mental health issues and OCD
  • One of the causes of pica is neglect, thus it is important to talk to the child and ease the communication channel
  • Avoid punishing the child or using negative reinforcement when they display pica. Make sure to show positive reinforcement when they stop pica.
  • Prepare a goodie box for the child with interesting food which a child can opt over non-food

Pica can be prevented by paying attention to the child’s diet and discouraging them from eating non-food. Though pica resolves as the child grows older, taking care can prevent the many complications they can have in future.

Also Read:

Theme Reveal, A – Autism, B – Bronchiolitis, C – Celiac Disease, D – Dyslexia, E – Eating Disorders, F – Fever, G – GERD, H – Hand Foot And Mouth Disease (HFMD), I – Imaginary Friends, J – Juvenile Arthritis, K – Kawasaki Disease, L – Leukaemia, M – Meningitis, N – Neuroblast, O – Omphalitis

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Shubhra Rastogi Written by:

Well, about me I can say that I am a certified dentist, healthcare analyst, medical writer and above all a mother of a 6-year-old. Most of my day to day activities revolve around her and she is my inspiration to start this blog. As a mother, I experimented with a lot of new things for my little one in a quest to find the best for her. I just want to share my experiences of being a happy and content mum.

20 Comments

  1. April 18, 2019
    Reply

    A friend’s son ate mud and another one ate tissue paper. And I knew a child who licked walls. It took a while and lot of perseverance from the family to help these kids get rid of these unhealthy habits.

    • Shubhra Rastogi
      April 18, 2019
      Reply

      Oh, I can just say yuk right now. With patience, this habit can be broken

  2. April 18, 2019
    Reply

    I have seen many kids eating mud, chalks, etc. I thought it is just the innocence of childhood. Never knew it is termes as PICA! Informative post.

    • Shubhra Rastogi
      April 18, 2019
      Reply

      Thanks, Sanjota

  3. April 18, 2019
    Reply

    Oh, this is new. I thought it was natural in children to put every item in their mouth. Didn’t know that there could be a disease associated with this kind of behavior. Very informative.

    • Shubhra Rastogi
      April 18, 2019
      Reply

      Till the time children experiment with food items it is perfectly normal. But non-food items are a big no-no.

  4. April 18, 2019
    Reply

    My kids love to play in sand. But never tried putting it in their mouth. Now I am more relieved that they didn’t.

    • Shubhra Rastogi
      April 18, 2019
      Reply

      I am sure you must be glad.

  5. Noor Anand Chawla
    April 18, 2019
    Reply

    What an informative post! Is pica also a sign of having worms in the stomach? Or are they unrelated?

    • Shubhra Rastogi
      April 18, 2019
      Reply

      Thanks, Noor. Pica can give rise to parasitic infections — worms in the stomach. So yes they are kind of interconnected.

  6. April 18, 2019
    Reply

    I can relate to this. When I was in boarding school for a while I developed an inclination to eating chalk. During lunch hour, we had no access to food and I used to feel extremely hungry. That time I don’t know why but I used to eat chalk. There must be nutrient imbalance also, as hostel food was probably not meeting all nutritional needs. But gradually it went away.

    • Shubhra Rastogi
      April 18, 2019
      Reply

      I am glad that you got rid of this condition.

  7. April 18, 2019
    Reply

    Oh! I thought every child has a habit of putting everything in their mouth. Glad for sharing this information.

    • Shubhra Rastogi
      April 18, 2019
      Reply

      Thanks, Rashi

  8. April 18, 2019
    Reply

    This one I Knew exists Shubhra… have heard stories on chalk and mud….But thank you for explaining it so well.

    • Shubhra Rastogi
      April 18, 2019
      Reply

      Thanks Kushal

  9. April 19, 2019
    Reply

    This is a new revelation for me. I thought kids naturally put everything in their mouth, had no clue about PICA. Very informative post.

    • Shubhra Rastogi
      April 19, 2019
      Reply

      Thanks vartika

  10. April 19, 2019
    Reply

    I used to chew pencils but I never thought about actually eating the erasers or anything else associated with nonfood consumption. But… we had a cat who ate string and, unfortunately, had to be put down because of the internal damage that it did.

    • Shubhra Rastogi
      April 19, 2019
      Reply

      Yes it is common in animals also my dog used to eat its own shit. It took us a while to train him not to.

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