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Baby Mouthing Shared Toys: what's the etiquette?

Shared Toys & a Public Shaming

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I would really appreciate your advice and any insight on the following issue:
My local library offers a “baby story time” each week for babies 0-12 months old. We regularly attend this event along with about 15-30 other babies.

The facilitator will pass out different items (shaker eggs, board books etc.) and she will always say “don’t worry if the babies put these in their mouths, we clean them off after every session.” So of course, doing what babies love to do, most of the babies happily chew on the various props and books. Here is where my question comes in. In an adjacent area of the library, there are various toys and books for kids and babies to play with. On another day of the week, I will bring my 8 month old daughter to play in this area. Of course, she will also pick up some of the blocks or other toys and put them in her mouth.

One particular day, another mother was there with two older girls, (maybe 7 and 8 years old) and when the mother saw my daughter put a toy in her mouth she loudly remarked “that’s disgusting!” so everyone in the vicinity could hear. I felt so extremely embarrassed and judged. I have never felt that way before at the library and I immediately packed up and we left. My question is, should I not allow my daughter to put the toys in her mouth? As you can imagine it will be almost impossible to prevent her from doing this, unless I take all toys out of her reach. I understand these are shared toys, and as long as I make an attempt to wipe or clean them when my daughter is finished, should this be enough? It was clear that the other mother thought I should not allow my daughter to put any toys in her mouth; but this area of the library is especially for babies and pre-school age kids, so shouldn’t some of this be expected? I am not sure if the library routinely cleans these toys as they do with the story time toys.

Please help me understand the etiquette in this situation. I don’t want to be uncomfortable going back to the library and I want to know what the right thing to do in the future. Was that mom overreacting? Didn’t her children put toys in their mouths when they were babies? I believe a little bit of germ exposure is good for kids too.

Thank you so much for your advice!

Holy overreaction, Batman. (Batmom?) And this may be just me, but I cannot even imagine loudly commenting on another person’s baby using the word “disgusting.” Even if yes, babies are kind of disgusting sometimes. BUT THEY ARE BABIES. YOU DON’T CALL THEM THAT.

Clearly, that mom has some issues with germs. That’s her damage, not yours. And memory issues, I guess, unless she raised her girls in bubbles and followed them around with sanitizing wipes and sprays 24/7. And rudeness issues, because CALLING ANOTHER BABY OR TYPICAL BABY BEHAVIOR “DISGUSTING” IS NOT OKAY. Your daughter was doing what babies do. And what many, many babies had probably already done earlier that day. Good lord, my babies routinely shoved dirt, dog food and the bottom of my shoes in their mouths.  That’s disgusting, and yet I still never called them that. At least not to their faces.

Now, whenever I’ve taken my babies to community play areas with shared toys, I did always TRY to make an effort to keep the toys out of their mouths. I’d gently pull their hands down and show them what the toy “did” to try to distract them. Like you, I’m all for a little germ exposure; I just figured that the next kid/parent probably wouldn’t like picking up something that’s been pre-slimed. I still appreciate seeing other parents give a toy a quick wipe-down if it’s been in their kid’s mouth — and I will also accept that wipe-down simply being done with the edge of their shirt, because seriously. That’s about all a pacifier would get from me at this point, if it fell on the floor. (And the worst illness we ever got was a cold, and even then it’d be impossible to “blame” the shared toys at a library group rather than the 2380374048534908 million other possible germy places/people they came in contact with.) There’s always going to be someone with different standards and opinions, of course, but I think MOST parents/caregivers at your little library play area understand that little babies mouth things and nobody is going to die from it. Go back with your head held high and your baby’s cute little mouth drooling at the sight of those awesome toys.

For the record, if I’d been a witness to the “that’s disgusting!” thing, I totally would have spoken up and made you feel better. I’ve gotten quite feisty since my nervous/unsure first-time mom days and quite enjoy butting in to shut some petty judgment down, or at least going over to talk to someone who’s clearly feeling shamed and packing up to leave. “Oh, please, all three of my babies put every object in this place in their mouths and they turned out just fine. I mean, mostly. Whatever. Good enough!”

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Kacie

    July 28, 2014 at 11:41 am

    That lady was way outta line. “Disgusting?” Oh come on. A baby being a baby.

    Just this weekend, I was there and my 10-month-old was being a normal baby, and put a little toy in her mouth. I was checking out books so I restricted her to THAT toy instead of spreading her slobber everywhere, and then I wiped it off and asked if the librarian would put it in the “clean these toys” bucket. Which they have. 

    Babies are fast and slobbery and it’s what they do at this age. That lady…grr!

  • Marie

    July 28, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    Wow that lady was rude!! On the flip side thought, my son has severe food allergies just from skin contact on shared surfaces. He has had his worst reactions at the library from the books and toys. I appear to be a germophobe because I am scrubbing (as discreetly as possible) the toys before he touches them. I could care less about germs, its the remnants of goldfish crackers that scare me. However – I would expect that babies would be putting stuff in their mouths, I don’t expect those toys to be sterile, and no one else should! I try to avoid cleaning a toy that a baby just had specifically because I don’t want anyone to think that I think their baby is germy.

  • Susie

    July 28, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    If it helps, my toddler just “kissed better” the bottom of someone’s shoe the other day. That’s waaaaay more squick inducing than an infant chewing…anything ever. 

  • MR

    July 28, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    That other mom was waaaaay out of line. You did nothing wrong. Please don’t let her affect your enjoyment of the library!

  • DontBlameTheKids

    July 28, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    Definitely an overreaction. I generally assume all public toys have been chomped on. 

    My not-quite-two-year-old bit her tongue yesterday and wanted it kissed better. Now that was disgusting…and I still did it.

  • Another Amy

    July 28, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    OCD mom at the library needs her meds adjusted.  I agree with Amy (as usual).  That’s all on her, not on you. Go on back with your head held high.  

  • s

    July 28, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    Oh, GIVE ME A BREAK. Babies put things in their mouths. If the library has a kids’ section, where they are making toys available to the public, I GUARANTEE you that the under-age-2 public is putting those toys in their mouth.

    I am exceedingly liberal in the baby germ department. Whatever, dude. Slobber away. Like Amy, I might try to clean things up after we leave, but… yeah. Baby and toddler mouths are just magnets for that kind of thing. I’m sorry you bolted – if I were you, I’d like to think I would have laughed and/or shot her a dirty look along with a rallying cry of “immunity!!!” and kept on playing.

    True story – I used to take my munchkin to a playgroup and everyone would just kind of throw their toys out in the middle, so all the babies were all over each other’s stuff. Mine had a little boy’s ball in her hands/mouth one day, and he had her bunny. His mom turned to me and said, “Oh, don’t worry, I washed and sanitized everything before we came!” It was all I could do not to laugh as her son slobbered all over our (secondhand, I might add) bunny that has, to my knowledge, never been washed and had very much indeed been hauled around in the diaper bag/car for months. Oh well. 

  • christine

    July 28, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    First of all, I feel really bad for that other woman’s two daughters.  If that’s how she reacts towards a random stranger in the library (the LIBRARY, of all places!), imagine what it would be like to have her as a mother.  Dear lord.

    Second, I agree with everything Amy says.

    I feel really bad that you were shamed like this… I might have cried if it happened to me.  I hope you can put it behind you and not worry about it the next time you go to the library.  And good for you for teaching your girl a love of libraries and books early in life! 🙂

  • Amy L

    July 28, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    Children’s librarian here. Way to go Mom helping instill a love of reading early on in your child’s life. Readers are made on the laps of their parents. Keep it up!

    Being a public library, anyone in the public can use the facility so it can be germy. Duh.Toys, board books, etc. in the children’s area are bought specifically with children in mind and we know children can be rough on things. Adults can be too for that matter. Some libraries will check out toys and puzzles to families. If that mom thinks the item your child gummed was gross, she should see the gunk that can be found in kid and adult books. Ugh!

    • Tasterspoon

      August 8, 2014 at 4:00 am

      Mmm, or the potty book we recently checked out that had…brownie?…stuck to the pages. I’m assuming it was brownie, I didn’t taste it.

  • Amy Renee

    July 28, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    The other mom was being a jerk, ignore her. But as to your thought “I am not sure if the library routinely cleans these toys as they do with the story time toys.” – just ask one of the children’s librarians -maybe the storytime one, if you feel comfortable with her. Say something like “I know you mentioned you clean the storytime toys, but what about the ones in the play area? If my daughter grabs one and puts it in her mouth before I can stop her, is there I place I can put it for cleaning? Or do the toys get cleaned on a regular basis there?”
    It can’t hurt to ask. Then if rudemom says something to you, you have facts behind you like “these toys get sanitized every x days” or whatever.
    Otherwise, just ignore.

  • Becky

    July 28, 2014 at 10:48 pm


    Want disgusting? My four year old recently peed in the play area ON the toys as retaliation for correction (don’t pull siblings hair). That was SUPER fun.

    My only saving grace is that they know I’m potty training my youngest so I just told them my kid peed. They didn’t know it was the older one. But I might never go back.

  • Rebecca

    July 29, 2014 at 2:51 am

    I also used to be totally paranoid about germs when my oldest was a baby. But I would have never shamed another mom like that lady. We all have different parenting methods, and barring actual abuse, no method is superior.
    My oldest is now 2 and a half, and he’s licked all sorts of gross stuff (always choosing the time when I’m distracted or not right next to him, grrr). After the time he licked his shoes and didn’t die from the Ebola virus, I figured I could calm down a bit. Thank goodness, since it would be impossible to keep both my him and his 9 month old sister in a germ-free bubble. As Amy said, a cold isn’t the end of the world. It’s annoying and inconvenient, but a necessary evil in growing up.

  • Caroline

    July 29, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    I would suggest that she retreat back to her oxygen tent if you see her again and ask – with a fake-sympathetic face if she’s always been subject to debilitating OCD and does she now that there’s good therapy for it?
    Just ignore lunatics like that, giving them credibility only makes them worse! You did nothing wrong… your baby is a normal baby… she is the freak, not you. Tell her that from me! Another quick response is to pick something about her that you don’t much like (like an ugly colour top or something) and say ”oh well, we all have our standards. Take me for example, I would NEVER wear a scrunchie in public / own anything in burnt ochre / dye my hair an implausible shade. Isn’t it WONDERFUL we’re all different?” and smile… exiting stage left…

  • slydegirll

    July 29, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    Shame on that lady. I can’t believe she forgot what being in the trenches with a little is like and was so rude!

    However…while you absolutely cannot control what other people say or how they act, I think it would have been OK if you had stood your ground. Ignored her, glared, smirked, whatever. Letting yourself get upset over it and taking your little one away from a fun place isn’t worth the energy, in my eyes. And then tell all your friends the horrible story and feel supported and how sympathetic they are. 

  • sarah

    July 29, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    Another children’s librarian here. The other mom was totally in the wrong, and I hope you won’t let her scare you off. I expect the toys are cleaned regularly, but here it’s always fine to hand a toy in at the desk and let us know it’s been chewed on or dropped in the potty or whatever. 🙂

  • Alison

    July 29, 2014 at 9:58 pm

    I wish I could have been there to lash out at that woman with all my sleep-deprived, misplaced rage. She was out of line.

    Anyway. I was at the park today with my toddler and 9 month old. The baby is no longer content to be held and wants to GET DOWN! and GO! like his brother. So I let him. Crawl around in the grass and gravel – getting incredibly dirty and trying to stuff rocks in his mouth at intervals (which I try to prevent, of course). But come on – you do your best.

  • Bee

    July 30, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    I have a kiddo with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD – Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis). I follow a lot of new research coming out that shows that a healthy variety of gut bacteria is essential to good health, and that the rise in antibiotics both for humans and food animals may be part of the issue behind not just IBD but things like obesity, skin disorders, depression – it is truly amazing. While antibiotics are life savers and I wouldn’t go as far as the folks who deliberately infect their kids with diseases (I’m talking gut bacteria, not strep or chicken pox), I think we’ll find the healthiest kids get the occasionally friendly saliva exchange. You want disgusting? When kids (or adults for that matter) get severe IBD symptoms sometimes a fecal matter transplant is the only way to get their bacteria levels back to normal. Put that in your Google and search it! LOL

  • Angelique

    August 4, 2014 at 3:50 am

    So several months ago I took my daughter (then about 16 mo) to the park. She grabs the attention of another baby (14 mo) who follows us around, mom in tow, the entire time. This child had a gooey nose painting her upper lip in layers of snot. Still cute but obviously congested and chronically since mom seem to have given up all hope of keeping her face clean. Well I had my daughter’s straw sippy cup hanging from my belt loop by the handle. I did not see or feel when this cute little booger pulled the cup off my belt loop and started licking the top! Luckily the straw was covered. Her mom leapt forward, wrestled the cup off of her, and gave it back to me apologizing.

    I wiped it off without worries and hung it on my belt loop again. About half an hour later my own little booger got the cup off of my belt and started drinking her water. I took the cup off of her knowing deep down in my heart that it was too late. Sure enough for the day or two she was congested and had a runny nose for a week or so.

    and do you know what I thought about that? BIG. FREAKING. DEAL! Kids get sick. They spread their germs. It’s what they do.

  • S

    August 8, 2014 at 1:51 am

    The lady was totally out of line. However, it was best to probably to leave as all the other commentators noted she obviously has issues. She needs the not my kid, not my problem motto, excluding emergencies. There was a big kid who peed a lot on the floor of our library in a high traffic area. I just told the librarian discretely and told mine not to say anything.  When you go to the library with the baby, it is assumed they chew, it’s how they learn.