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toddler eats sand

Mom’s Question:

My 2-year-old son has developed a new habit of eating the emulsion wall paint scratching it off the wall. He also eats sand, talcum powder, etc. He is doing this for some 3 months. His intake of regular food has reduced since then.

I took him to a paediatrician, he first gave a germ killer tonic and then gave calcium substitutes, but still, he is doing the same and not eating his food at all. he looks thinner now. I am worried. It can’t be normal that a toddler eats sand and paint!

by Nanthini

Baby Help Line:

Toddler Eats Sand – Curiosity Or Possibly Pica

Your son is such a cutie! What a creative use of pegs, love the photo! (and he is not naughty, just learning!)

Now it sounds like your son has what is termed Pica – which comes from the word magpie! (Magpies collect everything) Pica is an eating disorder that is quite common among young kids – some 10% and 30% of kids ages 1 to 6 years have Pica. The disorder is defined as persistent and compulsive cravings (lasting 1 month or longer) to eat nonfood items, such as sand or paper for example.

To some extent for his age, it is normal to put everything in his mouth, as the mouth is one of the primary sensory organs in a small child. But it does sound like he is doing more than just tasting, or carrying things in his mouth.

Causes of Pica

I definitely would go back to your pediatrician. There are a couple of causes of Pica that I know of, and both are easily tested with a blood test. The most common is a lack of iron – anemia. Pregnant women often crave weird things and usually it is lack of iron. You can read about iron deficiency here as well as what are iron-rich foods for kids.

The other possibility is lead poisoning. Lead is in all kinds of things like pottery and used to be used extensively in paint. I am not sure about your country, but certainly in a lot of countries lead is no longer allowed to be included in paint. However, many families live in old houses, which have layers upon layers of lead-based paint. Your pediatrician can test for this also with a blood test.

Another factor that can contribute to Pica, is an emotional one, so if your son has had any kind of trauma, or a new sibling, or change in circumstances, it could be his way of dealing with it emotionally.

Try not to make a huge deal out of his strange eating habits, or you may just reinforce it. Just gently try to distract him with toys or a game or story. And do head for a doctor to run some tests.

Good luck sorting this out, I am sure your pediatrician will be able to narrow it down with your help.

Enjoy your lovely boy – he is gorgeous.



Apr 02, 2018 Low iron levels?
by: Lynette
Hi there

Your son sounds just like the stories I heard from when I was a kid. I used to eat soil, lick dirty potatoes, the cracks between bricks, pram wheels… you name it I licked it or ate it! My mum took me to the doctors and a blood test showed I had a very low iron level, take your son back to the doctors and ask for further tests.

Good luck!


Apr 22, 2018 Same problem

by: Anonymous

Please I think i have this same problem but mine’s somehow different. I just like scratching paint from the wall or savouring the smell of powder but i dont put them in my mouth..its gone on for so long now.’m now 21years. Do I have low iron levels too and if i increase my intake of iron, would I stop the habit?

Apr 23, 2018 my son’s habits improved

by: Nanthini

now that I have taken him again to his pediatrician and got iron tonic, he has reduced eating wall paints, chalk pieces and sand.. though not completely stop, I assume he would stop soon..
and anonymous, regarding your crave for smell of wall paint, even I do that.. I am 23, I like the smell of petrol, empty house, pages on a new book, wall paint smell, freshly painted wall, etc etc but on checking my blood for other reasons, my iron content in blood is normal only.. so my guess is this doesn’t have anything to do with low iron.. anyways just consult a doctor if you feel smelling a paint is wrong!!!

Apr 23, 2018 Thank you

by: Anonymous

Thanks so much for the reply.. I thought I was the only one who had such cravings..’ve even been scared of talking about it..its good to know ur son has improved..he’s so cute..

Apr 25, 2018 Mine too!
by: Anonymous
While pregnant, I have always craved eating sand, though my doctor’s (different ones for each pregnancy!) have all pretty much ignored it and said my blood levels were fine. I crave eating salt (kosher, sea salt) as well. Lo and behold, my children eat the same. I have brought them to numerous doctors, all of whom have pretty much told me not to worry, though my 3-year-old continues to eat poorly, eat sand & salt (is she a mermaid???), and sleep poorly as well. Her weight, height & other developmental things are fine as well. Still, it’s worrisome for me. I’m going to get her lead & iron levels checked asap. Thanks for everyone’s postings. Good luck to everyone with this annoying issue!!!

Jun 21, 2018 Mii 2 Year Old Loves WallPaint…

by: Marie

Wowww…My Daughter will be 2 next month and since she was 14 months she has been eating the walls 10 months. Mostly by the window seals. I told her doctor and he told me she might have PICA which is caused by low iron. She was tested for lead poison and was fine. It scares me because she continues to do it.

Oct 22, 2018 Update from my Apr comment

by: Anonymous

After insisting-for ages- that there was something wrong with my child, a Nurse Practitioner agreed to run every test she could think of. Well, my daughter’s ferritin levels came in so low they wanted to admit her to the hospital for blood transfusions. However, blood transfusions do not work for ferritin levels- ferritin is essentially the iron STORES one has and will not show up on a regular blood test (in fact, her iron levels were perfectly fine, but her ferritin levels were deathly low). After months of giving her ferritin supplements (horrible experience. It tastes like blood), cooking everything in an iron skillet (the iron leaches into the food) and getting rare meat and sneaking leafy greens into her diet, she was fine. But it was hard work. The doctor is amazed that she doesn’t have any lasting effects (learning disabilities, developmental disabilities) because of it. DEMAND a ferritin test. We still have to watch her levels but so far so good. It’s been a miracle change in sleep & behavior since we got her “all better.” Good luck!

Nov 01, 2018 so do I :-)

by: Eli

I started eat the paint of walls and mud two years ago, I tried a lot to prove myself stop doing it but i couldn’t, and when I have just read this I finally knew why. I really had a lot of changes in my family as mum died, but I am not sure if I really eats this stuff because of that? I am so worried to have Lead poisoning and I don’t dare to ask for an analysis of lead poisoning, because what if I do have it and I still can’t stop this habit!? :-( I am sure that I don’t have iron deficiency because I eat good and healthy foods and I do exercise? Is there anything that can help me????

Baby Help Line: I understand that asking a doctor to run some tests may seem very scary – what if the results come back not so good. BUT, you owe yourself to do this anyway! If you do have some deficiency, waiting will make it worse and it can become dangerous. And with the correct treatment in such a case, the cravings will be mitigated! If the habit derives from your psychological trauma with your mom, then there is also help to get. Cognitive behavior therapy, for example, has shown to be effective in helping people change habits. Whatever may be causing this habit of yours, you CAN get help.

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