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Ask a Pediatrician: Eww! My Toddler Sucked On a Moldy Bath Toy—What Should I Do?

Toddler Sucked On a Moldy Bath Toy
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Eww! My 1-year-old was in the bathtub chewing on a bath toy and upon closer inspection, I could see mold in there! She definitely ate some of it...is this really bad? What should I do?”

Mold is all around us. Weird thought, right? But it’s true. It's a type of fungus that has tiny, lightweight spores which move freely through the air and attach to multiple surfaces. It especially enjoys damp, warm, and still spaces and, of course, all things edible. No matter how diligently you clean your home, no matter how carefully you pick out your produce, mold can get to the food consumed and items used by you and your loved ones. And guess what? This is usually okay!

I know that finding mold can be off-putting and worrisome, especially when you have little ones around that might accidentally swallow some. Especially when mold just loves getting into hard-to-clean things like sippy cups and bath toys. However, I want to assure you that this problem sounds much scarier than it really is, and most of the time, exposure to and even consumption of a bit of mold is totally harmless.

The Big Bad Wolf of the mold family is black mold, which is the only type that can cause serious health complications. This rare strain of fungus usually takes a much longer time to develop and needs very specific materials and conditions to spread. Black mold is usually found at old construction sites and inside ancient buildings. It is highly unlikely to appear in common household items, bath toys or food.

When it comes to all other types of molds, a healthy kid would need to be eating it by the spoonful to do any real damage. The worst that could happen is an upset stomach, some vomiting, and a slight fever— watch out for these symptoms and call your pediatrician if they occur. If your child has severe allergies, chronic respiratory disease or is immunocompromised, they might have a stronger reaction, and it is definitely a good idea to keep an eye on them after exposure. However, the bottom line is that household mold is not a source of extreme danger, and there is no need to panic if your child comes in contact with some.

Having said that, I know that it is impossible to simply stop worrying about these things—that is just what we caregivers do. As with all things, prevention is your key to controlling the situation long before an accident has a chance to occur. Remember, mold grows in small, confined, damp, and warm places. So, make sure to thoroughly dry items that often get wet. Let sippy cups air out before putting them back together. Store bath toys in an open space. Check cabinets and appliances for leaks. If you have a dishwasher, check if it has a sanitation setting that uses hot temperature to kill off bacteria and unwanted growth.

When it comes to food, remember to check expiration dates when you are grocery shopping and, later, cooking. Trust your senses: if something doesn’t look or smell right, toss it. If there is even a little mold on a portion of a food item, chances are the mold has penetrated the whole thing, so into the trash it goes.

Finally, remember that the experts at the US Poison Center (800-222-1222) are always available to answer your questions, even about topics just like this. They are helpful and accessible 24/7 and can give you guidance, and often, reassurance that your child’s mold ingestion is no big deal.

So, to sum up:

  • Prevention is key!
  • A little mold won’t hurt you or your loved ones.
  • Keep an eye out for unfavorable symptoms if contact occurs, but also...
  • Don’t beat yourself up if it happens! Mold is inescapable, and you’re still doing an outstanding parenting job!

Dr. Christina Johns is a pediatrician + Senior Medical Advisor at PM Pediatric Care, the largest pediatric urgent care group in the U.S.