They are colourful, squishy, bouncy, and children like playing with them. Water beads are often used for sensory play—especially for young kids—because they are creative, non-toxic and often deemed safe for use around children.


That’s why mum Janet Macdonald did not think differently about these colourful polymer beads until her son, 9-month-old Everett began feeling unwell one day after accidentally swallowing water-absorbing beads. Macdonald wrote in a post on Facebook about the incident on Wednesday, 14 December 2019, in hopes to warn all parents – especially those with young children – about the dangers these water beads can cause.

Dangers of water beads

The beads — often forming parts of a toy that are targeted toward children — were initially out of reach, but had later on scattered when the display that contained them had reportedly fallen, allowing for the boy to get his hands on them.


“This is a recipe for disaster if they are swallowed,” Macdonald wrote. “The container says non-toxic, but they are non-toxic the same way a meat cleaver is non-toxic. They do NOT dissolve in the digestive tract and instead swell to block to the passage. This hazard is not marked on the bottle.”

Macdonald’s son wound up at a hospital after falling extremely sick, vomiting “for three hours that night, even dry heaving in his sleep.”

The boy’s parents then consulted their paediatrician who suggested that if he had thrown up pieces and wasn’t choking that he should be fine. Their son, however, was not fine. According to Macdonald, Everett “couldn’t hold anything down all morning.” That’s when they realised it was getting serious.


“By this time with some sleuthing and pointed questions to daycare, we knew they were water beads,” Macdonald said.

9-month-old rushed to the hospital

Macdonald’s son was then rushed to the hospital. “It was a blur of a quick drive to the hospital,” she said. “X-ray, ultrasound, IV fluids, more puking and consults with about 5 surgeons and two anaesthetists.”

Baby Everette continued to vomit from the water beads — which, according to the boy’s mother — totalled to about six pieces.


“At 9 am the next day, they carried my poor sweet baby away to surgery. It was one of the worst feelings I’ve ever had in my life. I was all alone in the hospital holding room exhausted after two nights of little sleep, still wearing yesterday’s work clothes and covered in dried baby puke. After being strong for so long, I wept and wept,” she said.

It took a two-hour surgery to remove the beads. According to Macdonalds, the doctors discovered the beads had swollen. One had blocked the boy’s pyloric valve near his intestines in his stomach.

“At one point the surgeons had his entire digestive tract out of his body and ran their fingers down the length to make sure all the pieces were out. I saw the lead surgeon’s picture and I will never lose that image in my mind,” she wrote.

‘Get the beads out of your house’


Following the incident, Macdonalds is warning other parents about the dangers of water beads.

“I know OTS, teachers, and parents like to use water beads as sensory toys, because they are so colourful, squishy ‘non-toxic’ fun. But the consequences of swallowing them can be dire,” said Macdonald.

“Get the beads out of your house if you have small kids around. If you see these at your daycare centres, demand they be removed for any age, even if they are out of reach. Kids are fast,” she wrote.

Accidents involving babies and water beads


This is not the first water beads ingestion we have heard of. In 2017, TheAsianParent reported about the 3-Year old who ate 270 water-absorbing balls after her parents mistook it for candy.

An X-ray revealed that the water-absorbing balls, fortunately, haven’t expanded inside this child’s stomach.

The doctors then gave the 3-year-old some medicine to get the balls out of her system. In no time, over 200 of the polymer balls already came out. The doctors said that the rest “will come out within 24 hours.”

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