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Infant choking: how to prevent it and what to do if it happens
4/17/2017 5:22:11 PM
Infants and toddlers' natural curiosity increases choking risk.

Infant choking: how to prevent it and what to do if it happens

Beaumont Health

Infant choking: how to prevent it and what to do if it happens


Children have a higher risk of choking due to small airways that are easily obstructed, poor chewing ability and less forceful coughing. As infants and toddlers explore, they often put objects in their mouths. This natural curiosity can increase choking risk.

Choking is a leading cause of injury and death among children, especially those younger than 4 years of age. Among children treated in emergency rooms for non-fatal choking incidents, almost 60 percent were food-related.

“Many foods that are thought to be ‘kid friendly’ are actually dangerous, says Donna Bucciarelli, RN, an injury prevention coordinator at Beaumont. “Foods like grapes, popcorn and nuts can easily become lodged in a young child’s throat or lungs. Hot dogs pose the greatest risk, as they cause more choking deaths than any other food.”

Here’s what you can do to help prevent choking:

  • Children younger than 4 should not be given round, firm foods unless they have been cut into very small pieces, less than one half-inch.  Cut hot dogs lengthwise and cut grapes into quarters. This changes the dangerous round shape that can block a young child’s throat.
  • Do not give toddlers other high risk foods, such as hard candy, nuts, seeds and raw carrots.
  • Never let small children run, play or lie down while eating.
  • Keep coins, batteries and other small items out of reach of young children at all times.
  • Carefully read warning labels on toys before giving them to young children.
  • Check if toys or toy parts are too small with the toilet paper tube test. If the object will pass through the tube, it is too small for children under the age of 3.

Because complete removal of all choking hazards is unlikely, parents and caregivers should learn how to treat a child who is choking.

“Infants are not little adults, so rescue techniques differ due to their size and anatomy,” explains Bucciarelli. ”For choking infants use back blows and chest thrusts, not the Heimlich maneuver.”

Anyone who will be caring for an infant should take a class in infant choking and CPR. That includes parents and other caregivers such as grandparents and babysitters.

Beaumont’s upcoming Baby Fairs are offering free mini-classes on infant choking prevention and rescue techniques.

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