My baby eats sand. There, I said it. My future Nobel prize winner, cancer-curer, President, puts dirt in his mouth and swallows it. I’m so proud.
Is it a problem? Babies are oral, and explore their world sensorially. What’s not to love about eating sand? It feels good on the gums, it’s salty, and it gets a rise out of mom. We know that discipline’s important, and kids need boundaries. But let’s be real. You can “No” all you want, but your kid will sprout the arms of Shiva to evade you and shove that sand in his mouth. You can’t keep a baby from eating sand unless he’s never near sand.
Some adults swear that eating clean sand is the recipe for a long, healthy life, but most of us limit our consumption to surf wipe-outs. For others, it’s a disorder. Pica, Latin for magpie (a bird that eats everything), is a medical disorder defined as persistent ingestion of non-food substances, like sand. The literature points to iron deficiency as one underlying reason for pica, although other minerals could be low. To be considered pica, behavior must persist for more than a month at an age where eating such objects is considered developmentally inappropriate. While it’s a good idea to have your pediatrician monitor iron and mineral levels, it’s unlikely that eating sand means your toddler has pica.
It’s extremely common for perfectly healthy toddlers to eat sand, so what’s the harm? In one orifice, out the other – sandy poops can lead to painful diaper rash. Tummies full of sand don’t have room for proper food, like Big Macs. There may also be fecal and other unsavory matter seasoning that sandbox.
What can you do? Get a really big towel. Explain what sand is for rather than what it isn’t for: sand is for makings hills, sand is for digging, sand is for covering mommy’s feet. Use shovels and pails for play, not stuff that looks like food utensils. Try tactile play, and explain that food is for our mouths but sand is for hands and feet. Go to the beach with a full stomach. Bring a pacifier. Put some barrier cream on his bottom the day after the beach to prevent rash.
One unassailable solution is to take your kid home at the first mouthful. Basic Consequences 101: Intro to Penalties for Unacceptable Behavior. But my son is only one, and I like the beach. Rather than assuring him his first F- and condemning me to an indoor summer, we’re skipping that class. My preferred alternative? High quality sand. Consuming a moderate amount isn’t likely to hurt anyone. We’ll forgo cat-frequented parks for now, and enjoy our sandy snacks by the sea. Who knows, maybe he’ll take in a healthful mineral with those grains. It’s a beautiful day, there’s Aquaphor for the diaper rash, and this, too, shall pass.
When all else fails, do what one pediatrician recommended. “Look the other way and pretend he isn’t yours.” That’s someone else’s future President.