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Age-Specific Concerns : Children's Health : Infants and Toddlers

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Tips to Lower Toddlers' Choking Risks

As curious young children explore their environment, they put food and other objects in their mouths that can stick in their throats. Choking sends thousands of infants and toddlers to emergency rooms each year.

Earlier in 2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics drew attention to the problem, recommending action by government agencies, food manufacturers, parents, and others to help prevent choking in children.

Monitor mealtimes

Before age 4, children aren't able to grind their food into small pieces. Protect your child by creating a safe eating environment and avoiding certain foods until your child is age 4.

At meals:

  • Supervise your child. Don't leave your child alone while he or she is eating.

  • Sit your child upright in a high chair.

  • Discourage eating and talking at the same time.

  • Cut your child's food into small pieces until his or her molars come in.

  • Stop your child from running with food in his or her mouth.

Do not allow a child younger than age 4 to have these foods:

  • Hot dogs

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Chunks of peanut butter

  • Chunks of meat or cheese

  • Popcorn, pretzels, potato chips, corn chips, and similar snack foods

  • Hard, gooey, or sticky candy

  • Whole grapes

  • Raisins

  • Raw vegetables, especially hard ones

  • Chewing gum

If hot dogs are the only food you have, remove the tough skin and cut the meat into small pieces.

Keep small objects out of little hands

Although food is the most common cause of choking in small children, other objects are also a threat. Keep small household items and toys with small removable parts out of toddlers' reach. Be sure to remove common offenders, such as balloons, coins, marbles, tiny balls, pen caps, button-type batteries, and pins.

Choking emergencies

Choking can occur even if you take precautions. If your child has a forceful cough and is crying or vocal, let the child get the food or object out. If your child can't make a sound, have someone call 911 or your local emergency number, while you do the Heimlich maneuver. Learn the version that's right for your child's age. Once the food or object comes out, take your child to the doctor. A piece of the object may remain in the lung; only a doctor can tell if your child is OK.