By Gatonye Gathura                                          

Nairobi, Kenya: Women who crave for and eat stones when pregnant may be irreparably hurting their children’s health and their ability to learn, according to medical researchers in Nairobi.

Researchers say it can ruin the child’s learning ability and possibly their chance of success in life.

A national study commissioned by the African Federation for the Gifted and Talented claims to have found a link between a child’s learning ability and its mother’s habit of eating nonfood items such as stones.

The habit, otherwise called pica, of pregnant women craving and eating nonfood items such as clay, chalk, dirt, or sand, is quite common in the country regardless of a woman’s economic status.

A team led by Prof P O Ngozi of the University of Nigeria and published in the East African Medical Journal found the habit to be quite prominent with the stones.

Most consumed, the researchers said, was a type of light yellow soft stone, which is excavated from Kajulu hills in Kisumu County and cut into small pieces for distribution and consumption.

“The eating of the stone, locally known odowa, has spread to many towns and is sold at roadsides in small markets and shopping malls in all urban centers,” says the study.

The team had warned that the stones can hinder the absorption and retention of useful minerals, affecting both mother and child.

Eating non-food items, they said, can actually prevent the body from absorbing the proper minerals and nutrients.

“This could mean the baby is not receiving proper nutrition, increasing the risk of a variety of complications, including low birth weight, pre-term labour and stillbirth,” said the research.

Majority of those found ingesting non-food items were using soft stones, followed by different kind of soils, charcoal and ash, and then soap powder, in that order.  A small fraction was found to crave for the odour from their husband’s dirty work cloths.

More than half were ingesting different types of substances.

This morning Prof Humphrey Oborah, the president of the federation, will at a media briefing in Nairobi present the findings and plead to such women to break the habit.

An earlier study carried out among 1,071 pregnant women attending the Pumwani Maternity Hospital in Nairobi found 800 of them to be eating soil, stones and other nonfood items.

With the new findings, women may consider dropping the habit, something Prof Ngozi found quite possible though sometimes difficult.

About a quarter of the Pumwani women said although they had at one time or the other experienced strong cravings they had stubbornly refused to give in.

pregnancy; stones; craving