Babies begin exploring the world first with their eyes, then with their hands. Often, their little hands go straight to their mouths. It’s a wonder to watch. But, as soon as your baby can pick up things with their fingers, they are at risk of putting things in their mouths that can cause them to choke. Choking is a real risk for babies and young children – in fact, one child dies from choking on food every five days in the U.S.*
The most common choking hazard is food. As soon as babies get their front teeth, they can bite pieces of food. But they can’t chew it well until they get molars, when they’re a little older. It’s important to also watch small toys and household items. Remember, the size of a young child’s trachea (windpipe) is about the size of a drinking straw in diameter. They can choke very easily. Below are some common-sense tips to help prevent choking in babies and children.
1. Puree or mash food. If you don’t use prepared baby food, be sure to mash or puree it until it’s soft enough for your baby to swallow easily, and without chewing.
2. Feed babies with small bites of food. Once you begin feeding your baby regular food, be sure that the pieces are no larger than a half inch. Soft-cook veggies before cutting them up so they’re easier for babies to chew, swallow and digest.
3. Choose snack foods carefully. Babies and toddlers aren’t ready for popcorn, nuts, gum, hard candy or marshmallows until they’re at least four, according to babycenter.com.
4. Make sure babies and toddlers have calm, unhurried meal times. Seat babies upright in a high chair at meal times, and make sure they have plenty of time to eat. Rushing can lead to choking. Also have juice, milk or water available for them to take sips between bites. This will encourage them to swallow and not hold food in their mouths, which can be a choking hazard.
5. Pay close attention to toys and household items like coins, buttons, marker caps or jewelry. If an item is small enough to fit inside a toilet paper tube, it’s a choking hazard for a child. Christmas gifts can carry risk, so make sure they are age-appropriate for your baby or toddler.
6. Keep mobiles out of reach. Babies love mobiles – they are visually appealing, and help develop vision. But they can be a choking hazard. Keep them out of reach of little hands. With care and attention, you can reduce your baby’s choking risk. If your baby does choke, call 911 immediately.
*New York State Department of Health