Pregnancy brings on some weirdly specific cravings. Sometimes, you just want a big slice of rhubarb pie, served hot with a scoop of ice cream melted over it in a manner best described as "sexual." Sometimes, you just want a comforting bowl of dirt. Wait, what? What does it mean if you crave dirt while pregnant?
The desire to eat dirt during your pregnancy is by no means strange, even if it makes you feel like you've finally hit maximum pregnancy brain. In fact, the craving to eat dirt (this craving is commonly referred to as pica), specifically geophagy (literally "earth eating" in Latin), is seen all over the world, in every community you can think of, according to Archivos Latinoamericanos de Nutricion. From women living and working in the African plains to a soccer mom in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, craving dirt during pregnancy isn't new.
It's so common in some parts of the world, that there are areas that sell clay-rich dirt at health foods and exotic goods stores, according to Science Daily, even if the current recommendation is to definitely not eat the clay. However, the recommendation by the researchers noted in the Science Daily article made this decree for a reason that might surprise you. You may be thinking "because it's dirt, and you shouldn't eat dirt," but that's not all of it.
According to Doctor Sera Young, Ph.D. from Cornell University, there's a theory for what it means if you crave dirt while pregnant. While geophagy is often assumed to be just another type of pica, which may indicate a number of nutritional deficiencies according to The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Young theorizes that the clay in the dirt actually acts as a protectant barrier against the lining of your intestine that guards against toxins and bacteria, and helps aid in the absorption of nutrients.
The researchers at the University of Vienna acknowledge that may be the case, but still advise against eating it. Why? First, there just isn't enough empirical data to prove that this is what the clay is doing. Researchers need more longitudinal studies before anyone recommends eating dirt on the daily. Two, much of what makes up the dirt of the earth is redolent with heavy metals, like mercury and lead, which are terribly detrimental to a developing fetus and the mother. Eating it is simply unsafe; the risk/reward balance is tilted heavily towards risk. Also, it doesn't do anything to identify what may be an underlying issue before it's used as prophylactic or treatment. If your pica is related to an iron deficiency, it needs to be evaluated and treated accordingly.
While you may be eyeing up the pitcher's mound at your partner's company softball game like it's the frosting on a cupcake, you're going to have to hold yourself back this time, and talk to your doctor about it. Trust me, you won't be the first patient they've had who looks lovingly at the garden she's tended for reasons other than her pretty pink peonies.