Blog

Are Magnets Safe for Baby?

Sandra W Bullock

This website is reader-supported. When you click on links, we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.

We have compiled a comprehensive list of hazards and safety risks to assist parents in gaining a better understanding and ensuring the protection of their children. Among these risks is the ingestion of magnets by children. In this article, you will find detailed information on magnet safety and its potential choking hazard. Stay informed and keep your little ones safe by reading and implementing these crucial measures!

Are magnets safe for babies?

Ordinary iron magnets do not present any significant danger other than the risk of choking, which is common with small objects. However, high-powered magnets made from alloys can be up to 7 times stronger and pose a substantial health risk to infants and toddlers, including internal injuries such as intestinal tearing when babies ingest them. They also pose a danger when they are swallowed in multiples, as they can attach to each other within the body and cause blockages or tears in the digestive system.

What is magnet safety for kids?

Magnet safety for kids is the practice of preventing children from ingesting small magnets, which can cause serious health risks. Many toys and household items contain small magnets that are easily detachable and pose a choking hazard to young children.

Before 2012, magnets were primarily associated with the risk of choking, as they could potentially block a baby’s airways. However, the widespread availability of high-powered magnets has resulted in a concerning increase in internal injuries, including fatalities and cases requiring surgical intervention for magnet removal. As a result, ensuring magnet safety for children has become a paramount concern for parents and caregivers.

Regular magnets vs high-powered magnets:

Regular magnets, such as those found in refrigerator magnets or magnetic building sets for kids, are not typically strong enough to cause significant harm if ingested. However, high-powered magnets, also known as rare earth magnets, are much stronger and can easily attract each other through body tissue if swallowed. These types of magnets are commonly found in desk toys, jewelry, and even stress-relieving magnetic balls.

Rare earth magnets differ from regular magnets primarily in their composition. While rare earth magnets are permanent magnets made from rare earth alloys, regular magnets are mainly composed of iron. In terms of strength, rare earth magnets are approximately 2-7 times more powerful than standard magnets. This is what makes high-powered magnets dangerous.

When high-powered magnets are ingested by children, the risk of damage to intestinal tissue is primarily due to their increased strength and the potential for attraction to each other within the body, which can lead to injury. It can result in internal bleeding which isn’t easy to detect in children. Regular magnets, on the other hand, are not as strong and typically do not pose the same risk if ingested.

In addition to their composition and strength, rare earth magnets can also be shaped into smaller sizes compared to regular magnets, making them more appealing and easier for young children to swallow. This is another reason why parents should be especially cautious when it comes to keeping these types of magnets out of reach of children.

Furthermore, rare earth magnets also have a stronger magnetic pull compared to regular magnets. This means that if multiple pieces are swallowed, they can attract to each other through tissue, creating the potential for serious health complications such as intestinal blockage or choking risk.

Rare earth magnets, discovered only in the 1970s and 1980s, have found widespread use in the manufacturing of various devices, including baby toys. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported incidents where young children who have ingested multiple magnets experienced serious injuries. The magnets caused folds in the digestive tract to become trapped, leading to complications such as intestinal perforations, sepsis, and tragically, even death.

In 2009, there was a sudden surge in sales of magnetic desk toys for adults, which unfortunately resulted in a significant increase in injuries. It was estimated that emergency room visits related to these toys reached 3,617 by 2012. In response to this alarming trend, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission implemented a rule in 2012, aiming to restrict the size of rare-earth magnets used in consumer products. However, this rule was later overturned by a US federal court decision in November 2016, following a case brought by Zen.

Below is a an archived safety alert put out by CPSC in 2012;

CPSC Safety alert on magnets

The dangers of magnet ingestion:

If a child swallows one or more magnets, they can become attracted to each other inside the body and create a blockage or tear in the digestive system. This can lead to serious injuries such as bowel obstructions, perforations, and infections.

Here are some of the risks associated with ingesting high-powered magnets:

  1. Gastrointestinal Injuries: If multiple magnets are swallowed, they can attract each other across different segments of the digestive tract, potentially causing pressure necrosis, perforation, or obstruction. This can lead to serious injuries such as tissue damage, perforation of the stomach or intestines, and internal bleeding.
  2. Blockages: Magnets can cause blockages within the digestive system, leading to symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and bowel obstruction. In severe cases, surgery may be required to remove the magnets and repair any damage caused.
  3. Tissue Damage: The powerful magnetic force can damage the tissue lining the digestive tract, leading to inflammation, ulcers, and other complications.
  4. Infections: If the digestive tract is perforated by ingested magnets, it can lead to infections such as peritonitis, a serious and potentially life-threatening condition.
  5. Misdiagnosis and Delayed Treatment: Because the symptoms of magnet ingestion can mimic other common gastrointestinal conditions, such as gastroenteritis or appendicitis, there is a risk of delayed diagnosis and treatment, which can worsen the outcome for the affected individual.

Symptoms of magnet ingestion:

  1. Difficulty Breathing: If the magnet becomes lodged in the airway, the baby may have difficulty breathing or may exhibit signs of choking, such as gasping for air or wheezing.
  2. Abdominal Pain: Ingested magnets can cause abdominal pain or discomfort, particularly if they become lodged in the digestive tract. The baby may cry or exhibit signs of distress, such as pulling their legs up to their chest or refusing to eat.
  3. Vomiting: If the magnet causes irritation or blockage in the digestive tract, the baby may vomit or regurgitate their food.
  4. Refusal to Eat: Babies who have swallowed a magnet may refuse to eat or may have difficulty swallowing due to discomfort or pain.
  5. Change in Behavior: In some cases, the baby may become irritable, lethargic, or unusually fussy. They may also exhibit signs of distress, such as arching their back or crying inconsolably.
  6. Visible Symptoms: In severe cases, you may be able to see the magnet lodged in the throat or abdomen, particularly if it is large or if multiple magnets have been swallowed.

Magnets as a choking hazard:

Aside from the risks of ingesting magnets, these objects can also be a choking hazard, especially for young children. Swallowing even one small magnet can cause serious damage to the digestive system.

The safety standard 16 CFR 1250 specifically addresses the potential hazards associated with magnets in toys. According to the CPSC regulation, it is prohibited for any toy or children’s device to be small enough to fit completely within a cylinder with a diameter of 1.25 inches or 31.77 mm, as illustrated below.

minimum size of magnet objects to prevent choking risk

See the entire regulation here

What are some of the negative effects of magnets on the human body?

Magnets can have various effects on the human body, both positive and negative, depending on factors such as strength, duration of exposure, and individual health conditions. Here are some potential negative effects of magnets on the human body:

  1. Interference with Medical Devices: Strong magnetic fields can interfere with the function of certain medical devices, such as pacemakers, implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs), and cochlear implants. This interference can disrupt the normal operation of these devices and potentially pose a risk to the individual’s health.
  2. Tissue Heating: Exposure to strong magnetic fields, such as those generated by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines, can cause tissue heating. This effect is generally localized to the area of the body being scanned and is closely monitored during medical procedures to ensure it remains within safe limits. However, prolonged or excessive exposure to strong magnetic fields could potentially cause tissue damage or other adverse effects.
  3. Headaches and Dizziness: Some individuals may experience headaches, dizziness, or nausea when exposed to strong magnetic fields, such as those produced by certain types of magnetic therapy devices or industrial magnets. These symptoms are typically transient and resolve once the exposure is removed.
  4. Skin Irritation: Direct contact with strong magnets or prolonged exposure to magnetic fields may cause skin irritation or allergic reactions in some individuals. This is more common with certain types of materials used in magnetic jewelry or therapy devices.
  5. Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity: Some people claim to experience symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, and insomnia when exposed to electromagnetic fields, including those generated by magnets. However, scientific evidence supporting the existence of electromagnetic hypersensitivity is limited, and many studies have failed to find a consistent association between electromagnetic field exposure and reported symptoms.

It’s important to note that the vast majority of everyday magnets, such as refrigerator magnets or magnetic therapy devices, are unlikely to cause significant harm to most people when used as intended. However, caution should be exercised when using or being exposed to strong magnets, particularly in medical or industrial settings, and individuals with medical devices or underlying health conditions should consult with healthcare professionals before undergoing procedures involving strong magnetic fields.

CPSC Regulation on toys containing magnets(16 CFR 1250)

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has regulations in place regarding the safety of toys containing magnets. These regulations are part of the broader safety standards established under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) and apply to all toys sold in the United States. The specific regulations pertaining to magnets in toys focus on mitigating the risks of ingestion and choking hazards, particularly for young children.

Here are some key aspects of CPSC regulations related to magnets in toys:

  1. Size Limitations: The CPSC has established size limitations for magnets in toys to reduce the risk of ingestion and choking. Magnets and magnetic parts must be large enough to prevent them from being swallowed or lodged in a child’s throat.
  2. Magnetic Force Limits: The CPSC sets limits on the magnetic force of magnets used in toys to minimize the risk of injury if multiple magnets are ingested. The strength of magnets must be within safe limits to prevent them from attracting one another through the walls of the digestive system and causing serious health complications.
  3. Age Grading and Warning Labels: Toys containing magnets must be appropriately age-graded and labeled with warnings about potential hazards, including the risk of ingestion and the importance of supervision during play. These labels help parents and caregivers make informed decisions about the suitability of toys for children of different ages.
  4. Testing and Certification: Manufacturers are required to conduct testing to ensure that toys containing magnets comply with CPSC safety standards. Third-party testing and certification by accredited laboratories may be necessary to demonstrate compliance with regulatory requirements.
  5. Recall and Enforcement: The CPSC monitors the marketplace for compliance with safety standards and may take enforcement actions, including recalls, if toys are found to pose a risk to consumer safety. Manufacturers, distributors, and retailers are obligated to comply with CPSC regulations and take appropriate corrective actions if safety issues arise.

In some cases, there may be no symptoms at all, making it difficult to detect the ingestion of magnets.

Due to these serious risks, there have been concerns about the safety of high-powered magnets, especially when they are marketed as desk toys or puzzle sets. In response, regulatory agencies in various countries have taken measures to restrict the sale of high-powered magnet sets and to raise awareness about the dangers of magnet ingestion, particularly among children. Parents and caregivers should be vigilant about keeping small magnets out of reach of children and supervising their play with magnetic toys. If ingestion is suspected, immediate medical attention should be sought.

Magnet safety is important for kids because ingesting small magnets can cause serious health complications. These tiny objects can easily get stuck in a child’s digestive system and create blockages or perforations. This can lead to severe abdominal pain, vomiting, and potentially life-threatening conditions such as intestinal damage or blood poisoning.

Here are some general safety guidelines for toys, including magnetic balls:

  1. Age Appropriateness: Toys should be suitable for the age of the child. Magnetic balls often have small parts that can pose a choking hazard for young children, so they may be labeled as not suitable for children under a certain age.
  2. Magnetic Strength: If magnetic balls are designed for children, they should have a low magnetic strength to minimize the risk of injury or ingestion if multiple pieces are swallowed.
  3. Material Safety: Ensure the materials used in the magnetic balls are non-toxic and do not contain harmful chemicals. They should meet relevant safety standards for materials used in toys.
  4. Labeling and Packaging: Toys should be labeled with appropriate warnings and instructions for safe use. Packaging should be secure to prevent accidental access to small parts by infants and young children.
  5. Testing and Certification: Toys should undergo testing to ensure they meet safety standards. Look for toys that have been certified by recognized safety organizations.
  6. Supervision: Always supervise young children when they are playing with toys, especially those with small parts like magnetic balls.
  7. Regular Inspection: Check toys regularly for damage or wear and tear, and discard any that are broken or damaged.

Safe handling of magnets:

When handling neodymium magnets, it is important to take proper precautions to avoid injury or damage. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind:

  1. Always handle magnets with caution and care.
  2. Keep magnets away from electronic devices such as laptops, phones, and credit cards as they can cause damage.
  3. Avoid placing magnets near pacemakers or other medical devices, as the strong magnetic field can interfere with their function.
  4. When storing magnets, be sure to keep them in a safe and secure location where they cannot be accessed by children or pets.
  5. If a magnet breaks, dispose of it properly to prevent accidental ingestion.

FAQs

Are magnets harmful to babies?

High-powered magnets, including magnetic balls, can be harmful to babies and young children if ingested. Ingesting multiple magnetic balls or other small magnets can cause serious health complications such as intestinal blockage or choking risk. These rare-earth magnets are much stronger than traditional magnets and can attract to each other through tissue, creating a risk for injury if multiple pieces are swallowed.

Are magnets on baby clothes safe?

Magnets on baby clothes are generally considered safe, as long as they are securely attached and not easily removable. However, it is important to regularly check the magnets for any signs of damage or wear and tear, which could pose a choking hazard if ingested by a child. Additionally, always supervise young children when they are wearing clothing with magnets to prevent any potential accidents.

How to tell if a magnet is neodymium?

Neodymium magnets are a type of rare-earth magnet and can be identified by their strong magnetic pull. They are significantly stronger than traditional magnets, such as those found on refrigerator doors, and may also have a shiny metallic appearance. Additionally, neodymium magnets are usually marked with the letter “N” or the word “neodymium” to indicate their material composition. If you are unsure if a magnet is neodymium, it is best to err on the side of caution and treat it as if it were a powerful rare-earth magnet. As always, keep magnets out of reach of young children and supervise their playtime with any toys or objects that contain magnets to ensure their safety.

How to tell if baby swallowed magnet:

You may not be able to easily tell if a baby has swallowed a magnet, especially if it is small in size. However, some common signs that a child may have ingested a magnet include difficulty swallowing, sudden abdominal pain, vomiting, and fever. If you suspect that your baby has ingested a magnet, seek medical attention immediately as it can cause serious health complications if left untreated.

Can babies play with magnets?

Babies should not play with magnets, especially those that are small and easily ingestible. While it may be tempting to let them play with magnetic toys, it is important to remember that young children have a natural tendency to put things in their mouths, making them more susceptible to accidentally swallowing a magnet. Additionally, the strong pull of neodymium magnets can cause serious harm if they are ingested, as they may attract other magnets or metal objects in the digestive tract and cause blockages. Therefore, it is best to keep all magnets out of reach from babies and young children to ensure their safety.

More resources: