July 9, 2018

Young children swallow lots of strange things. When to worry, vs. when it’s just a treasure in the diaper.


Why do humans have such a strong admiration for glitter?

Whether you’re young or old, it is so visually appealing. We use it in arts and crafts, birthday party decorations and makeup. Maybe its shimmer reminds us of a lake or the ocean.

Regardless of the reason, babies and toddlers put all kinds of shiny objects in their mouths — coins, paper clips and beads, to name a few. I’ve had moms come in to see me, especially during holidays, frantic because they discovered their child’s mouth full of glitter. I can usually put their mind at ease pretty quickly, because as the old saying goes, “this too shall pass” — literally!

Most swallowed objects will pass through a child’s digestive system and into their poop without serious complications. It does require a little work on your part because you may have to inspect the diaper to confirm the object has truly passed. In the case of glitter, it’s pretty hard to miss: You will see some glittery poop.

Knowing that most solid objects pass in time, it’s OK to just keep a watchful eye on your child’s stool. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, it may be due to one of two reasons: Either the object passed and you missed it (it happens all the time), or it may have gotten stuck somewhere in your child’s digestive system. If he or she has no symptoms, a call to your pediatrician would be the best place to start. The doctor can advise you on what to do next and where to go.

When to seek help

That being said, with certain symptoms, it is extremely important that you get medical care for your child quickly. If your child is having trouble breathing, call 911. If your child stops breathing, call 911, then start CPR.

Call the Tennessee Poison Center hotline at 1-800-222-1222 if your child swallows:

  • Household chemicals.
  • Medicines that he or she is not supposed to be taking.

Call your pediatrician, who can help you decide if you need to be seen in the emergency room or can wait for an office visit, if your child:

  • Swallowed a battery, magnet, coins or a sharp object;
  • Is vomiting after swallowing something;
  • Feels like something is in his throat;
  • Has difficulty swallowing;
  • Has stomach pain;
  • Has excessive drooling;
  • Has blood in the stool;
  • Has a distended (very bloated) belly.

Prevention is important! Do your best to keep small objects out of the reach of young children. In a perfect world, this should be enough, but unfortunately, our little ones are closer to the ground. They find things you didn’t even know were there, and they don’t understand what’s dangerous to swallow. Always be prepared.

But about that glittery poop? Well, just consider that an extra-festive diaper change.


Malee Shah, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician specializing in emergency medicine. She sees patients at Vanderbilt Children’s After-Hours Clinic in Mount Juliet. 

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Vanderbilt’s Children’s After-Hours Clinics offer the convenience of a walk-in clinic with care provided by a board-certified pediatrician from Children’s Hospital. No appointment is necessary, but we recommend calling your pediatrician first. Learn more about services and find locations for Children’s Hospital After-Hours Clinic here.