Is It Safe for Babies to Be Around Magnets?

Babies are attracted to small magnets like... well, like iron filings to a magnet. A baby learns by exploring. This includes putting different items into his mouth and learning how they feel and taste. It’s scary enough for a parent to realize her baby has just swallowed a coin or a plastic toy. If the baby swallows more than one magnet, he could be facing some significant injuries.

Babies and Small Magnets

Toys and household items that contain magnets can be risky for babies. In a home with several children, it’s difficult for parents to make sure that everything dangerous has been picked up before putting the baby down on the floor. Older children and parents can miss a tiny object, especially if it has fallen under a couch skirt or behind a table leg. The baby, scooting or crawling, may be able to get his hands on a magnet. Because of his natural curiosity, he might put that magnet into his mouth and could end up swallowing it.

Physical Damage

If the baby swallows multiple magnets, the field of attraction inside the intestines can trap several layers of intestinal walls between them. If the problem is not diagnosed quickly enough, the baby’s intestines can be perforated or develop small holes. In addition to the risk of perforation, the baby might develop an intestinal infection or blood poisoning. His intestines are small, and even the smallest magnet can cause a blockage inside the intestines, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. If the magnets have stuck together through the baby’s intestinal walls, they won't be dislodged unless they are removed surgically.

Medical Intervention

When a baby has swallowed a magnet -- or particularly, more than one -- the only effective treatment is abdominal surgery. In cases where the baby’s intestines have become twisted, the affected portion might have to be surgically removed, especially when blood poisoning or infection have developed, states the CPSC.


Buckyballs, a set of very small magnetic balls used as a desk toy, are made from rare earth elements and have recently become the focus of an administrative complaint filed by the CPSC. The inventors of Buckyballs have marketed their product to adults, but this has not prevented 12 swallowing incidents in children, according to "The New York Times.” A 12-year-old girl placed Buckyballs on her tongue, imitating the look of a pierced tongue; she accidentally swallowed them, which resulted in two operations 1.

Symptoms of Ingestion

The symptoms of magnet ingestion have the appearance of most other abdominal illnesses. After a baby has swallowed at least one magnet, he might develop abdominal pains. Before he undergoes an X-ray, he might also begin to experience diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Because these symptoms are so nonspecific, it can take valuable time for the parents and doctor to diagnose magnet ingestion.