General Health & Wellness • Jan 17, 2011

Prevent Choking: Some Easy Safety Steps

            Choking is one of the most common causes of injury and death in young children; in fact, it is the fourth leading cause of death in U.S. children younger than five.  The good news is that most choking episodes are preventable.  Here are some suggestions to help avoid choking in your little one…

            From the time your baby is very young, she will begin putting whatever she finds in her mouth.  It’s a normal stage of development, and important in the process of learning about her environment.  So you have to be extremely cautious about keeping small items out of reach, which gets more challenging as she becomes mobile and chases down things to try to eat!  Get in the habit early of keeping all small items out of her reach.  As she does become mobile, vacuum often and scan the floor regularly for items she could find and put in her mouth.

            Some of the more common items that babies can get hold of and choke on are coins, pieces of older children’s games and toys, crayons, pen caps, safety pins, batteries, screws, and small pieces of garbage.  If you are not sure if something is a choking hazard, try putting it through a roll of toilet paper.  If it fits inside the roll, or if you think it could fit inside your child’s mouth, it’s too small for him to play with.  

            Plastic bags, balloons, and small pieces of plastic are dangerous because they can block the airway as well.  Be sure to keep these out of reach, and don’t let older children play with balloons near a baby or leave them where the baby could get them.

            Check your child’s clothing for loose buttons or snaps as you dress her each day.  Small items like this could easily end up in her mouth and become a choking hazard. Also check pacifiers and bottle nipples often for cracks to prevent a small piece from coming off in your baby’s mouth.

            Check toys and stuffed animals for small parts that could come loose and become a coking hazard.  Common culprits are wheels on toy cars or eyes on dolls/ toys that could come loose. Look for stuffed animals that have eyes sewn on rather than hard plastic pieces glued on.

            Foods, of course, are among the most common culprits for choking in young children.  Avoid smooth hard foods like nuts (especially peanuts) and hard candies until your child is old enough to chew them well, usually around the age of four.  Children younger than this should not chew gum either.  Round firm foods like hot dogs, carrots, and grapes should be cut into very small pieces and always cut length-wise as well. Seeds and pits should be removed from fruits and vegetables, and for young toddlers, grapes and other fruits should be skinned as well.  Peanut butter and other sticky foods can also serve as choking hazards; offer them in small bites.  Other foods than can be choking hazards include popcorn, pretzels, raisins, corn, beans, raw vegetables, tough meat, ice cubes, jelly beans, marshmallows, and chewy candies or vitamins.

            Children should always be closely supervised while eating.  Table manners can decrease the chance of choking too; teach your child to sit up straight, sit still while eating, and to not talk or laugh with food in his mouth. 

            Child-proofing your home and watching what and how your child eats are good steps to help prevent choking.  However, accidents do happen regardless of how careful we are.  Therefore, it’s a good idea to brush up on your First Aid skills and confirm that all those caring for your child feel comfortable with how to deal with choking should it happen despite our best efforts to prevent it.  St. Louis Children’s Hospital offers CPR classes for parents, grandparents or anybody who cares for small children. Click here to register or to learn more.


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