Why do pregnant women eat ice chips?

This was a question that directed someone to my blog.

There are two reasons that spring to mind, and the first is the stupid practice of not allowing women to eat or drink anything while in labor, on the extremely tiny chance that they will need an emergency C-section under general anesthesia, and the theoretical risk of the unconscious woman vomiting and then inhaling the vomit, which could cause harm or even kill her. I know of someone who died in this manner during a tonsillectomy, so it is possible, but is very, very rare, and only happens when they haven’t properly made sure the airway stays clear. Proper anesthesiology practice is to assume that people have something in their stomachs; and even when people fast, there is always a small amount of liquid or bile or something in the stomach which could theoretically be vomited up. If you know you’re going in for surgery, then restriction of foods makes sense. If you’re not, then you probably have more risk of having general anesthesia from a car wreck driving to the hospital than you’d have from an emergency C-section once you got there.

But if the question is in regards to pregnant women not in labor eating ice just because they want to, then I would suggest getting a blood test to check for anemia. A former coworker was told by her doctor that her craving of ice chips was actually a symptom of anemia (she wasn’t pregnant at the time). This woman was cold-natured anyway, and if she had had her way, the building would have been kept at 80 degrees at least, all the time. When she was at her worst with eating ice, she would sit at her desk, huddled under a blanket with a space heater by her feet, freezing away… while eating ice! I’d never heard of an ice craving indicating anemia before, but the doc indicated that it was fairly common.

So, if you’re pregnant and craving ice, you may be anemic. Anemia is fairly common in pregnancy — the woman’s blood volume increases quite a bit during the nine months, and if she doesn’t have enough iron, then the extra blood dilutes the iron she has, which manifests as anemia. One problem is, that vitamins or other pills containing iron may cause constipation, which tends to plague pregnant women anyway. Another problem is that iron pills may cause nausea. If you can get iron in a liquid form, or slow-release, or in pills containing a little bit at a time, these may help. Of course, you can always try to eat foods with a lot of iron in them, which I tend to prefer in theory; but if your iron is really low, you may need to “kick-start” with supplements.

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2 Responses

  1. I know that low iron was the cause in my case! Near the end of my first pregnancy and about halfway through the second I suddenly started having major ice cravings. Both times within a week of that starting the nurse at my ob’s office asked to check my iron and sure enough it was EXTREMELY low. The slow release iron capsules were the only supplement I could take, because even breakfast cereals (which are fortified with iron) made me vomit immediately after eating them let alone a full strength iron pill.

  2. i was told at a parenting class that a pregnant woman should not eat ice is that true i am 35 weeks pregnant and craving ice and eat it a lot but i know that they give you ice during labor the lady who told me said her doctor had told her but i dont know if it is true

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