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Bottles, binkies and sippy cups: Dr. Nancy Snyderman's safety tips for parents with young children

By Stacey Naggiar and Dr. Nancy Snyderman
NBC News

For parents of babies and toddlers, safety is always on the mind.  But despite parents’ best efforts, some common household products can be an unlikely source of danger.  Two studies published Monday in the journal Pediatrics describe the hazards associated with popular button batteries as well as with bottles, pacifiers and sippy cups.  

Swallowed batteries

The first study looked at a terrifying increase in the number of pediatric emergency department visits for battery-related injuries.  Researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio found that the number of children under the age of 18 visiting emergency departments for these injuries doubled in the last 20 years, to an average of one visit every three hours. The growing trend of products that require 3V 20-mm lithium button batteries is likely to blame for these staggering numbers.  The study found that the injuries mostly involved the use of toys, hearing aids, watches, calculators, flashlights and remote controls. 

The problem with these button batteries that’s different from other batteries is that they set up a current inside the body, causing dangerous complications.  If a button battery is ingested, it can cause damage in as little as two hours and sometimes there are no initial symptoms. Radiologists have a small window of time to distinguish whether the foreign object is a coin or a battery.  They look for a ring near the edge of the object as the tell-tale sign that it’s a battery. 

But some experts say that’s not enough, the battery industry should put a distinctive mark such as an ‘X’ or a skull and crossbones on both sides, so radiologists can tell the difference right away.  Once diagnosis is confirmed, these patients are immediately taken into surgery and the battery is removed.  The window of safety is narrow, no more than three hours.

Dr. Ian Jacobs, a pediatric otolaryngologist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, says he sees these cases all too often and that most of the time parents are completely surprised when they find out what their child has swallowed. 

“These batteries can erode through the front wall of the esophagus and into adjacent structures like the aorta and cause a massive fatal bleed,” he said. 

Dr. Jacobs is heading up a task force with the American Bronchoesophagological Association to design better labeling and safety features for products with button batteries as well as to increase public awareness.  

Battery safety tips

  • Limit exposure to products with button batteries in children under 5 years old
  • Tape battery compartments closed
  • Keep remotes, car keys and other objects with button batteries out of children’s hands
  • If there is any question as to whether or not the child swallowed a battery, get to the emergency room ASAP


Bottles, binkies and sippy cups

The second study looked at injuries associated with bottles, sippy cups and pacifiers (also known as binkies), over a 20-year period.  The researchers, also at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, found that an average 2,270 children per year visit emergency departments for injuries related to those three products.  In more than 86  percent of these cases, the injury was caused by a fall and in over 70 percent of the cases the injury body part was the mouth.  The good news is that product malfunction was only to blame in 4.4 percent of cases.  The researchers recommend that parents follow the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for transitioning children from bottles to cups as well as the appropriate times to say bye-bye to binkies. 

Safety tips for using bottles, sippy cups and pacifiers

  • Use pacifiers during infancy to help prevent sudden infant death syndrome
  • Discontinue pacifier use at 6 months  to prevent ear infections
  • Discontinue pacifier use at age 3 to prevent dental problems
  • When the child is 1 year old, transition from a bottle to a lidless cup 
  • Keep kids seated when they are drinking from a bottle or sippy cup