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Is There Any Harm in Pregnant Women Eating Stones and Other Non-Food Items?

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This habit of pregnant women eating stones – I’m sure you may have heard about it, seen a pregnant woman buy or eat them, or maybe you’ve eaten them yourself. And by the way I’m not referring to the normal stones that you find on the roadside as you walk. I’m talking about some special kind of soft stones, commonly known as ‘odowa’. They are mainly sold in market places though lately I’ve also been seeing them on supermarket shelves.

But are these odowa healthy to eat?

The reason these stones have come to mind is because last weekend while I was in Toi market getting my boys some stuff, I spotted an odowa vendor and out of curiosity decided to ask him a few questions about the stones because I had seen a couple of women buy the stones from him. His name is Stephen Kitheka and he was kind enough to allow me to sit with him and conduct an interview.

Kitheka told me that he’s been selling the stones at that particular spot for the last 10 years. Business has been good, he said. Kitheka gets his stock from Gikomba market.

Kitheka sells the stones in individual pieces, each for five shillings. In a day, he sells between 60 – 100 stones. On a really bad day, he sells 50 stones. Pregnant women form a regular base of clientele for Kitheka’s stones. I asked him if he knows the benefit of the stones to those who eat them.

“I hear the women say the stones contain calcium which makes their bones strong. Some tell me the stones ‘add blood’ to their bodies. But I’m not sure how true this is because I don’t have that kind of medical information. I just sell the stones because the women would be very disappointed if they found them missing. They really like them,” he told me, pride in his voice.

Kitheka wraps the stones in old newspapers when he makes a sale to a client. He says the stones are ready to be eaten and don’t need to be washed because, having been extracted directly from the ground, they are ‘clean’ as they have not been tampered with.

In all the 10 years that Kitheka has sold odowa, he has never heard a client complain of illness caused by the stones.

“If women had complained then I would not still be in business. The fact that I have regular customer base means the stones are good for the women,” he told me, pride in his voice.

After chatting Kitheka, I decided to ask a doctor about odowa, with special regard to pregnant women. I talked to Dr. Stephen Mutiso, a consultant obstetrician / gynaecologist at Kenyatta National Hospital. He told me of the dangers associated with this habit, more so in pregnant women.

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