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PBS and viewers hit the jackpot with Call the Midwife. We can all journey on the unique voyage across the ocean in a time machine to 1960s Poplar. Slip into a comfy, maroon sweater, and walk the cobblestone streets with me as we are embraced by the midwives and sisters of Nonnatus House.

We are welcomed into the lives and hearts of a kaleidoscope of characters. Their triumphs become our celebrations, and their losses becomes our grief. The realism of the situations these characters face are what makes the show spectacular and completely spot on.

I devour the episodes with no manners. If the show were a literal meal, then imagine me at Buffalo Wild Wings with sauce from eyebrow to chin and pinky to elbow. It’s delicious!!! I eat it up. Smiling. I am quite refined. Don’t giggle. I am.

On top of refinement, some may consider me a kind woman. Let me warn you…when my show is on, I flush kindness down the toilet. Do not ask a question. Do not change the lighting. Do not sneeze. Do not look in my direction! I can hear your eyeballs moving, and you are disrupting my lovely show. AND DO NOT CHEW YOUR FOOD LOUDLY. No, seriously.

While I love devouring the entertaining humanness as well as the familiar and accurate health content, the midwife in me realizes the subject matter is new cuisine to some. So allow me to be your personal menu navigator as we season your palate and unpack a recent episode. If you haven’t caught on yet, there is a food theme going on here.

Close your eyes and pretend I have a cool English accent (I’ll sound more intelligent that way). This week we are going to Poplar for a quick visit with Sister Julienne, Nurse Lucille, Shelagh Turner, Sister Monica Joan, Trixie, Nurse Phyllis, and all the rest of the crew. (Season 7, Episode 4)

Call the Midwife - Pica

Call the Midwife – Pica

Mrs. Campbell, a mother with a full belly of baby and charcoal, is at the clinic about to be seen by her midwife when the crave wave hit her. She succumbs and begins sneaking nibbles from a lump of coal. As viewers, we all blink quickly, judging her. Nurse Lucille catches her in the act and, without pause, explains that she is exhibiting behavior associated with pica and should not be embarrassed.

What in the world?

What is pica?

pica translates to magpie

A magpie sitting on a branch.

Pica is an eating disorder. It is associated with craving food and non-food materials with little to no nutritional worth. The word pica literally translates to magpie. A magpie is a bird known for its garbage gut; they will eat just about anything put in front of them.

We all know pregnant women are notorious for having cravings, so why is pica so different? The variation lies in the substance consumed and the reasoning for the consumption. Pregnancy pica cravings don’t have a conclusively identified cause; however, connections to vitamin and mineral deficiencies have been made. Most experts theorize that pica cravings are an effort to fulfill the body’s deficiencies.

For the mother in Call the Midwife, coal was her vice. Common pica cravings include clay, ice, and dirt. I must admit, Sonic knew me by name. I could not get enough of that sweet pellet ice.

Pica may also look like craving/consuming:

  • Laundry detergent
  • Plaster
  • Baking soda
  • Ashes
  • Soap
  • Rocks
  • Matches
  • Cornstarch
  • Toothpaste
  • Mothballs
  • Coffee grounds
  • Smelling gas
Mother eating laundry detergent due to Pica cravings.

Mother eating laundry detergent due to Pica cravings.

We are all guilty of giving in to the pleasures of soothing our taste buds and filling our tummies with our compelling cravings. But, are there risks to the baby sharing our body and nutrition? There could be.

Ingesting non-food matter could be detrimental for you and your unborn baby. Pica can restrict or obstruct the absorption of essential nutrients, causing further deficiencies. Additionally, pica cravings may contain ingredients that are noxious and not meant for consumption (think the tide pod challenge).

Here’s the good news. Nurse Lucille was right on. There is no need to hide in Mortified Land. Come out of the pica closet, and talk to your midwife. It may be important for your midwife to test you for nutritional deficiencies so both of you can form and mutually agree upon a plan. It could be as simple as adding a vitamin supplement or alternative foods to your diet.

I am interested. Have any of you had any interesting cravings? Let’s keep this conversation going. Remember, I’ll be the one speaking with the English accent!!


About the Author

A certified nurse midwife and doctorate student has been in the Houston birth community for over a decade. Her experience includes elementary school nursing, hospital L & D, birth center, and home birth. Andie is confident in a woman's ability to grow and birth her baby. She feels a partnership in care is empowering and hopes to foster that relationship with families. She has a tender, lighthearted, and hands off approach to the evidence based care she offers. She has been joyfully dating her husband of 16 years since junior high and has five children. Her passions beyond bellies, birth, and breastfeeding are mission work and reading.