Craving Ice During Pregnancy: Anemia, Meaning and More

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Crunching down on a cup of ice is not unique to pregnancy, though women do sometimes get stronger cravings for ice during pregnancy- even those who had never eaten ice before. How common is this craving and is it a sign of something more?

Eating ice can happen both during and separate from pregnancy. Though eating ice itself is innocuous and safe, having cravings for ice during pregnancy can be a sign of iron deficiency anemia.

If you crave ice during your pregnancy it is best to discuss this with your medical providers, some clinics will even screen pregnant women for ice cravings to help them identify who might be at greater risk of iron deficiency. 

Though eating ice is not completely unusual, it is helpful to know all of the possibilities for what cravings for it can mean. Beyond the potential meanings, I will walk you through any safety concerns and when you should contact your medical provider. 

Craving Ice During Pregnancy: An Overview 

Eating ice isn’t uncommon, including outside of pregnancy. US readers might even be familiar with the chain restaurants that serve the ‘good ice’ for crunching on- Sonic and Chick-Fil-A being the most popular. However, during pregnancy, some women who were never ice eaters are surprised by this seemingly unusual craving. 

Craving ice, scientifically termed ‘pagophagia,’ is actually considered to be a type of pica. Pica is a condition where you crave non-food substances.

Though ice is technically just frozen water, which is most definitely meant to be drunk, ice is not considered a food and therefore cravings for it are usually looked into a bit deeper than other pregnancy-related food cravings (source: Mayo Clinic). 

Note: For the purpose of this article, ‘ice cravings’ refer to plain ice in any form, such as ice cubes, ice shavings, and ice chips. Flavored shaved ice, slushies, and flavored ice pops are categorized as foods and therefore eating them are not considered pica. 

When it comes to craving ice, there are many factors. Some folks are simply in search of something to cool them off. This is especially likely if you are nearing your due date and live in a hot and humid region. Other times, the crunch and mouth feel of ice is appealing. 

Regardless of the reason behind ice cravings, it is likely you are wondering whether or not eating ice is safe, healthy, or a sign of something sinister. I’ll dive into the meaning(s) behind craving ice below. 

ice cubes in a transparent bowl

What Does it Mean if I’m Craving Ice During Pregnancy? 

Similar to cravings for other foods and drinks, it is only natural to wonder whether or not craving ice is a sign of anything. From predicting baby’s gender to a sign that labor is starting there is no shortage of rumors around ice cravings- but do any of them stand up to scientific research?

Though the exact cause of pregnancy cravings (for any foods or drinks) is not known, one of the most popular hypotheses is that cravings are your body’s way of trying to get nutrients the body is missing (source: American Pregnancy Association). Similarly, cravings for ice have been linked to a nutritional deficiency. 

The rumor with the most evidence backing it is that cravings for ice are a sign of anemia or iron deficiency. Pregnant women are at increased risk for iron deficiency because a woman’s iron needs double during this time in order to supply the baby with oxygen-rich blood (source: Mayo Clinic).

According to a recent article, anywhere from 29-60% of individuals with iron deficiency also reported eating ice (source: Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners). 

Because of the known connection between ice cravings and anemia, some OB providers now screen for this symptom in their pre-appointment questionnaires. Even if your clinic doesn’t check for ice eating as a part of their routine screenings it is best to be upfront with your medical provider about this craving.

They may want to investigate further to ensure both you and baby are getting the best nutritional support. 

Does Craving Ice Mean I’m Having a Boy or Girl?

Even if you are not anemic, ice cravings can still happen. Eating ice is also rumored to be a sign that labor is beginning and that you are carrying a boy. If you’re trying to get a sense of your baby’s gender, without a sonogram, you might be tuning into your cravings for a clue.

Unfortunately, cravings for ice are not a reliable predictor- though that does not make it any less fun to guess! (source: National Childbirth Trust). 

When you are feeling the long-awaited anticipation of your new baby’s arrival it is normal to take every change as a sign that labor might be near. Though laboring women are often given ice chips to cool themselves and get a bit of water in, I was not able to find any research that links ice cravings and labor. 

woman holding ice cubes

Is It Safe to Eat Ice When Pregnant? Will it Affect My Baby? 

Ice is a super simple food, so it is reasonable to think that its safety would be equally as simple. Ice is just frozen water after all. As a whole, eating ice is not harmful for mom or baby, but there are a few things to watch out for. 

As with other foods and drinks that are cold or not cooked, the first is food safety. Ice made in commercial ice machines can be susceptible to bacteria if the machines are not cleaned regularly. Now, this doesn’t mean that you need to drink lukewarm drinks when dining out, but rather use your judgment.

If a restaurant or their drink/ice machine seems less than cleanly it is best to choose another place to dine. Ice from clean and well-maintained ice machines is totally safe. 

The second consideration is ensuring that mom is eating enough during the day. Since ice does not contain any nutrients, if ice is the main thing a pregnant woman is eating it is likely that neither she nor the baby is getting adequate nutrition. Ice is perfectly safe to eat, but eating balanced meals should still be a priority.

If you notice that you are opting to munch on ice over other foods, first check in with your medical provider. In order to ensure you are getting enough nutritionally, try swapping in other frozen foods. Frozen grapes, blueberries, or mango pieces offer the same icy crunch along with vitamins, minerals, and fiber

Overall, crunching on ice is a perfectly harmless way to stay cool and hydrated. While cravings for ice can be harmless and commonplace for many, these cravings may also be a sign of iron deficiency. Hopefully, this article has given you practical guidance on when to discuss cravings with your OB.