A mom carefully cuts her baby’s Cheerios in half. And then in quarters. Why? Because she’s worried her baby will choke. From the time you learn you are pregnant, you hear scary statistics and serious warnings about choking hazards. You may be like the many parents who become hyper-vigilant and fearful. And maybe you’ve prepared yourself by taking first aid classes and learning the Heimlich maneuver. How real is the risk of choking? And what can you do to prevent it?
Parents’ hyper-vigilant attitudes about choking are not unwarranted. The following staggering statistics prove that taking time to prevent choking and to learn how to handle a choking incident saves lives:
- Choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional death in children under the age of 5.
- Food is the most common cause of nonfatal choking in young children.
- At least one child dies from choking on food every five days in the U.S.
Choking is scary, no doubt about it. However, there are many simple behaviors you can incorporate that can help you prevent choking:
- Never leave small children unattended while eating.
- Have children sit up straight when eating.
- Provide calm, unhurried meal and snack times.
- Do not allow children to eat while walking, riding in a car or playing.
- Model safe eating habits and chew food thoroughly.
- Offer plenty of liquids to children when eating. Solids and liquids should not be swallowed at the same time. Offer liquids between mouthfuls.
Make Wise Food Choices
The most important thing to do is to be cautious about what your children can reach and put in their mouths. Keep in mind that a young child’s trachea (also called a windpipe or breathing tube) is approximately the diameter of a drinking straw.
- Consider food size and shape. Avoid or alter the shape of round foods and foods that can conform to the trachea.
- Combinations of food size, texture and shape can pose a threat. For example, a slippery hard candy with a round shape about the size of a drinking straw could block an airway.
- Cut foods into small pieces, removing seeds and pits
- When choosing foods, consider whether or not your children have enough teeth and the muscular and developmental ability to chew those foods. Not all children reach the same developmental level at the same age. Children with special health care needs are especially vulnerable to choking risks.
Be especially cautious with foods that kids frequently choke on, including:
- Hot dogs (especially cut into a coin shape), meats, sausages, cheese cubes and fish with bones. Cut hot dogs lengthwise and widthwise.
- Snack foods like popcorn, pretzels, dried fruits, sunflower seeds and all nuts.
- Candy, cough drops, gum, lollipops, marshmallows and jelly beans.
- Whole grapes, raw peas, seeds, carrots, celery and cherries. Cook or steam vegetables to soften their texture.
- Foods that clump and can stick to the roof of the mouth, like peanut butter or caramel. Use a small amount of peanut butter with jelly or cream cheese on whole grain breads.
- Ice cubes.
Keep Small Objects Away from Small Children
All parents know that food is not the only choking hazard. Parents are all-too-familiar with the “not for children under 3” warning appearing on many toys and other products. Any toy or object labeled as a choking hazard should, of course, be kept away from children. Other items that children frequently choke on include latex balloons, coins, marbles, toys with small parts, balls, art supplies, button-type batteries, medicine syringes, screws, stuffing from bean bag chairs, jewelry, staples, safety pins, stones and holiday decorations.
Learn and Educate
Educate caregivers and the community about choking hazards and precautions to take to prevent choking. Identify emergency resources and contacts. Become familiar with life-saving techniques such as child cardiopulmonary resuscitation, abdominal thrusts (Heimlich maneuver) and Automated External Defibrillators (AED) like those listed on the Mayo Clinic website.
By following preventative measures and being prepared for a choking incident, you can feel confident and prepared. Let go of the fear and simply be smart. Consider the food you are choosing and the readiness of your child for that food. You know what you’re doing. And you’re prepared for an accident, just in case. And go ahead and serve up those Cheerios whole once your child is ready. Cheerios are not choking hazards for children who can sit up on their own and chew (regardless of how many teeth they have). Serve ‘em up!
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only.