A water bead brain injury nearly cost a 10-month-old her life in 2017 – and her mom launched an awareness campaign hoping this doesn’t happen to anyone else. (1)(2)
Apparently, toxic chemicals from the water beads damaged the baby’s brain.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t the last time it would happen because another 10-month-old girl suffered serious injuries after swallowing one in 2022. (3)
In September 2023, Chuckle & Roar Ultimate Water Beads were recalled over serious health risks (including choking and intestinal obstruction hazards) and one child’s death.
Water beads are small, super-absorbent polymer crystals that expand after absorbing water. They were initially used to help maintain soil moisture in farms, but people found new uses for these products: (3)
- To keep floral arrangements moist
- Absorbers for diapers
- Children’s toys (for older kids)
- Sensory toys for older children with autism
What happened to these babies, what are the dangers of water beads, and what should you do if your baby swallows one? Continue reading to find out.
Water Bead Injury 2022: The Dangers of Swallowing One
In October 2022, 10-month-old Kennedy Mitchell accidentally swallowed a Chuckle & Roar brand water bead that her mother, Folichia Mitchell, bought from Target. (3)
The water bead swelled many times its size in baby Kennedy’s tummy, causing an intestinal blockage, her mother explained. (3)
According to Mitchell, she bought the water beads for her nine-year-old autistic son. Like similar products, the water beads are often marketed as sensory play tools, particularly for children with autism. (3)
They had no idea that Kennedy had swallowed one. The toddler had to undergo emergency surgery to remove the water beads from her tummy. (3)
Thankfully, she was discharged from the hospital in November. But she still needs to use a feeding tube and suffers from trauma related to drinking fluids, her mom told Fox News. (3)
Target reportedly pulled out the brand’s product, but no recall was issued and the company still sells other water bead brands. (3)
What Is Kipley’s Water Bead Injury (2017)?
Ashley Haugen launched Display Not Play (recently renamed to “That Water Bead Lady”), a blog and awareness campaign, after her 10-month-old daughter Kipley suffered brain injuries due to water bead ingestion in 2017. (1)(2)
The mom of two explains that she and her husband, Jonathon, bought the water beads as a birthday gift for their six-year-old daughter some months before the incident. (1)(2)
Knowing these toys were choking hazards, they were extra careful to keep their younger daughter away from the water beads. The girls even had a separate play area, and their older daughter, Abigail, played under adult supervision. (2)
Despite the babyproofing precautions they took, Kipley still managed to find some beads and swallow them. Her parents had no idea this happened until the doctors found them in her tummy. (2)
Ashley recalls that they didn’t suspect Kipley had swallowed water beads because they hadn’t seen it happen, and the little girl gradually got sick. Their doctor reportedly “dismissed” the ailment at first, but the baby’s condition worsened after a few weeks. (4)
When Kipley started “projectile vomiting,” they rushed her to the hospital, but the doctors couldn’t find what was wrong despite numerous tests.
The doctors eventually decided to perform an investigative surgery and discovered the water beads in the baby’s tummy.
By then, however, it was too late.
Although the water beads were marketed as “non-toxic,” the doctors believe these caused Kipley’s toxic brain encephalopathy. It’s a serious condition from heavy metals or harmful chemicals, such as acrylamide (a chemical used in manufacturing polymers like water beads but can paralyze the brain or central nervous system). (1)(2)(5)
In Kipley’s case, the chemical was identified as acrylamide. (2)
Despite Kipley’s improvement after surgery, her condition quickly worsened. Her brain injury changed everything from how she talked and walked to how she slept or interacted with others.
Kipley survived, but the brain injury she experienced led to developmental delays, muscle weakness, muscle incoordination, a risk for autism, and gait abnormality, her parents explained. (1)
Ashley hopes that sharing Kipley’s story can help prevent it from happening to other kids. She advocates for water beads to be used only for display, not as children’s toys.
What Are The Dangers Of Water Beads?
What Is A Water Bead Injury?
Aside from possibly causing poisoning, water beads can also lead to blockages along any part of the digestive tract or even asphyxiation and death if they block the airways.
Water beads can be small when dehydrated, yet they can easily swell to many times their original size as they absorb water and other fluids along the digestive tract. This can lead to dangerous blockages and potential bowel obstructions, preventing food from moving through the tract. (3)
Are Water Beads Toxic To Humans?
Water beads are often marketed as “safe and non-toxic.” However, the CPSC warns that these can be toxic to humans and lead to acrylamide poisoning, as in Kipley’s case. (3)
What To Do If Your Child Swallows Water Beads?
Call your doctor and immediately bring your child to the hospital.
Lawmaker Pushes For Ban Of Water Beads From Toy Market
Update: November 22, 2023
New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. wants to ban water beads from the toy market due to their involvement in children’s deaths and serious injuries (as detailed above). (6)(7)
While they were originally designed for agricultural use, water beads entered the toy market in 2010. For example, they’re sold as “gel blasters” for toy guns or as sensory toys. (6)(7)
According to the lawmaker, although some products include safety warnings on their label, others don’t. (6)(7)
Yet even with warnings and close parental supervision, serious water bead-linked incidents and deaths still happened. That’s why Pallone calls on the total ban and removal of water beads from being sold as toys. (6)(7)
The lawmaker believes that this is the only way to keep children safe from potentially dangerous products. (6)(7)