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Parents Corner

Dirty Snacks

Babies will taste-test everything from mushed peas to dust bunnies. At around age 1, when the tendency to put things in their mouth is in full bloom, some may even munch on dirt, says William Weil, MD, professor emeritus of pediatrics and human development at Michigan State University.

Dirt itself may be harmless, but the stuff that’s mixed in with it can be dangerous, says Dr. Weil. Possible toxins include lawn chemicals; cat or dog feces, which may harbor parasites; or paint dust and chips, which may contain lead.

The best way to prevent your baby from acquiring a taste for dirt: Hide the temptation. When you sit outside, spread out a blanket or sit her on the grass. Have munchies on hand if she makes a move to nibble on the soil. And if she succeeds? Just clean off her mouth and her hands and distract her with a toy. If she exhibits flulike symptoms or mild diarrhea afterward (for more than a week), call your pediatrician.

A child who insists on eating dirt or other nonnutritive substances should be evaluated by a pediatrician for pica, an eating disorder than affects as many as 10 to 30 percent of kids ages 2-6. It’s thought to be triggered by an iron deficiency or stress.

Other useful resources

Drew Bledsoe of the New England Patriots has established the Drew Bledsoe Foundation Parenting With Dignity program. Bledsoe says of his success "my parents helped me the most to be what I am today" and his goal is to help other parents give their children the best possible start. For more information, see http://www.drewbledsoe.com/.

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Last modified: January 26, 2013