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  • Writer's pictureYour EmmaWell Team

Common Choking Hazards and How to Prevent Them

Updated: Jun 14, 2022

Few things are scarier than seeing your child struggle to breathe. As a parent, you'd never want to imagine a scenario in which your child chokes on something, but it's vitally important to prepare for this possibility. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, choking is a leading cause of death among children, especially those under three years of age. Once an object gets stuck in a child's throat, it prevents oxygen from reaching the brain, which can lead to brain damage or death within four minutes.

Food only accounts for 50% of choking episodes. Both edible and non-edible items are to blame - to a baby or toddler, they are one and the same. From foods that are too large to swallow to household items that are too small to notice, here are the most common choking hazards.

Common Foods

To a baby, the act of chewing is a novel skill, and any food that could be caught in his or her throat (making it difficult or impossible to breathe) can be very dangerous if swallowed whole. But choking concerns are not reserved for just parents and caregivers of infants. Any child under the age of five is at risk for choking injury or death. Generally, babies and toddlers should be served soft, forgiving foods smaller than a thumb's width (the size of their airway). Take extra safety measures when preparing the following foods, or else avoid them entirely until your child is over the age of four.

Fruits: Fruit is often a baby's first food, but any firm fruit with skin that can separate from the flesh, such as apples and pears, can cause choking. Remove the skin and seeds of fruit before feeding it to your baby, and if your baby does not yet have a full set of teeth, serve fruit cooked or steamed. Whole grapes are the worst choking hazard of all fresh fruits, followed by cherries, berries and melon balls. These fruits should be sliced lengthwise and quartered for little ones under four years of age.

Hot Dogs: The tube-like shape and compressibility of a hot dog make it a perfect fit for a child's windpipe. When preparing a hot dog for a young child, cut it lengthwise and chop it into small pieces instead of a coin shape. Likewise, cut up other proteins into manageable bites smaller than one-half inch so that if something gets swallowed whole, it won't get stuck. That includes steak, turkey, chicken, fish, and string cheese!

Peanut Butter: Globs of peanut butter can conform to a child's airway and block the ability to breathe. To make peanut butter safer for your little one to swallow, spread it in a very thin layer, serve it with a drink, or dilute it with a little water. Avoid putting peanut butter on soft white bread, which when mixed with saliva, can become pasty and adhere to the back of your child's throat.