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Why does my toddler like to eat eggshells?
Q: My 21-month-old son likes to eat eggshells. Even if I try telling him it is not what he should eat, he continues doing it. I try to avoid making dishes using eggs in front of him. He eats omelets as well but still wants to eat eggshells! He does have low hemoglobin (9.5) and is on an iron supplement. What should be his hemoglobin at this age, and is it possible that he eats eggshells because he’s not getting enough calcium?
A: Although it may seem shocking to you that your son eats eggshells, it is fairly common for young children to eat non-food items. This is called pica, and it usually occurs between 1 and 6 years of age. Besides eggshells, young children may also eat dirt, clay, ashes, paint chips, plaster, chalk, match heads, rust, glue, toothpaste and even animal droppings. Eggshells are not as dangerous as some of the other items, but they can be contaminated with bacteria such as salmonella and campylobacter from the hens, which could make your son sick.

Why do young children eat non-food items? You have probably observed that babies enjoy putting their hands and toys in their mouths. Since the mouth is an important sense organ for young children, they naturally try out different shapes, textures and tastes in their mouths. Most children outgrow pica as they learn what things should and should not be eaten. In some cases, pica is associated with nutritional deficiency, emotional stress or a developmental problem.

Be sure to discuss this with your child’s doctor. The pica could be associated with your son’s anemia. His blood hemoglobin level of 9.5 is low, since the normal hemoglobin level at this age is between 11 and 15. He has been given an iron supplement to treat iron deficiency, the most common cause of anemia. Give him the iron medication with orange juice or water but not milk, which can block the absorption of iron. In addition, drinking too much milk can actually cause anemia, so limit your son to 16 ounces of milk each day. And make sure that he eats a balanced diet including meat, eggs, iron-fortified cereals and green vegetables. Ask the doctor whether it might also help to give your son a daily multivitamin. Also ask the doctor whether he needs to do other blood tests to determine the cause of your son’s anemia, such as checking for lead poisoning or other conditions. Low calcium is very rare in children and is unlikely to be the cause of the pica. However, if you’re concerned, your doctor could check for this as well.

Continue to teach your son what to eat and what not to eat. At this age, it should be easy to keep eggshells out of his reach. Your idea to avoid cracking eggs in front of him is also good to avoid the temptation. If you must cook in front of him, you can crack the eggs in the sink and dispose of the shells immediately so he doesn’t see them. Over time, your son will likely forget about eating eggshells.