If you’re a mom or know a mom, you have probably heard of the popular teething toy Sophie la girafe – or Sophie the Giraffe. Despite being a multi-award-winning product and having world-wide popularity for the past fifty-plus years, parents have reported multiple accounts of a very serious and potentially dangerous problem: black mold exposure in many Sophie the Giraffe toys.
The History of Sophie The Giraffe
Monsieur Rampeau was a French toymaker who expertly transformed pure latex from the Malaysian Hevea (aka Rubber) tree into toys. One day, he came up with the idea to make a toy that was different from the usual farm animals. He ended up choosing the giraffe because it seemed like the perfect shape for a baby-friendly animal toy.
On May 25, 1961 – St. Sophie’s Day – she went into production. Sophie seemed magical because giraffes weren’t native to France, which made the product that much more desirable. It was also a toy that was very purposefully designed to stimulate all five senses. Because Sophie was the first of her kind, mothers across Europe and beyond needed to have it.
Since then, many generations have experienced the teething toy at some point in their upbringing. You can find them in stores today including Walmart, Bed Bath & Beyond, Childrensalon, Babies”R”Us, and Indigo Books.
During its creation, the manufacturer uses a technique called “rotomoulding” which heats the latex. When the rubber figure has set, Sophie goes through fourteen manual operations. You can see much of the process below!
Reports of Black Mold Exposure
Many moms have reported that mold has been growing inside their children’s teething toy. One mom smelled something unpleasant and decided to cut open her son’s toy to find mold coating its insides. Another mom had a similar experience and took to Amazon to leave a review: “Beware! If you have a drooly baby, moisture will get in the hole and you’ll end up with mold! We’ve had ours for two years and the entire inside is coated with black mold!”[5,6]
Dangers of Black Mold Exposure
First off, mold can grow in any place or object that traps moisture. This is troubling because developing black mold can sometimes go unseen for a long time if at all. Depending on your body, some people are more sensitive to different molds than others. In terms of children, up to one-third of them have mold allergies.
Black Mold Symptoms
In more serious cases of mold sensitivity, people may notice:
How Dangerous is Black Mold for Children?
According to Dr. Lyuba Konospasek of New York Presbyterian/Weil Cornell Medical Center, your child ingesting a bit of moldy bath-toy water is not necessarily dangerous, but obviously unwelcome. Though if your child exhibits any of the black mold symptoms listed above, be sure to bring them to your doctor to be safe.
“The likelihood of a child getting sick from this is close to zero,” said Dr. Konospasek. The real cause for concern is if your child has an immune problem.
However, the Institute of Medicine provides a lot of evidence that links exposure to indoor mold to respiratory tract symptoms and asthma. So while there isn’t an immediate danger in baby toys like Sophie the Giraffe, it is a toy that they will have for a couple of years and you may not want your child to have that long-term exposure to potential mold.
How to Clean Teething Toys
The Sophie the Giraffe toy has very clear and concise cleaning instructions in both friendly and commanding tones. For example:
Use a clean, damp cloth / DO NOT SUBMERGE IN WATER
Only clean the surface / DO NOT STERILIZE
Remember: I’m not a bath toy…Giraffes don’t swim!/ DO NOT BOIL & NO DISHWASHER
If you follow these steps, ideally Sophie should remain mold-free. Indigo Books even has a squeaker-free bath toy and specifies in its description that “the water cannot get inside the toy so it avoids bacteria and mold.” You can also find non-plastic teething toys such Under the Nile’s Egyptian organic cotton teething ring, which is free of BPA, colorants, formaldehyde, fragrance, PVC, and lead.
In conclusion, it’s comforting knowing you have options especially when it comes to possibly having to take your baby’s favorite toy away. (But please do if they’re showing any black mold symptoms!) Regardless, it remains so important to follow product instructions, keep your baby toys clean, and to do your research into objects that are free of these concerns.