Infant choking: How to keep your baby safe

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Infant choking: How to keep your baby safe

Worried about infant choking? Find out the common causes of infant choking and what you can do to help protect your baby from choking hazards.

Why are babies vulnerable to choking?

Choking is a common cause of injury and death in children younger than age 1, primarily because their small airways are easily obstructed. It takes time for babies to master the ability to chew and swallow food, and babies may not be able to cough forcefully enough to dislodge an airway obstruction. As babies explore their environments, they also commonly put objects into their mouths — which can easily lead to infant choking.

Sometimes health conditions increase the risk of choking as well. Children who have swallowing disorders, neuromuscular disorders, developmental delays and traumatic brain injury, for example, have a higher risk of choking than do other children.

What are the most common causes of infant choking?

Food is the most common cause of infant choking. However, small objects, small parts from toys and certain types of behavior during eating — such as eating while distracted — also can cause infant choking.

What can I do to prevent infant choking?

You can take simple steps to prevent infant choking. For example:

  • Properly time the introduction of solid foods. Introducing your baby to solid foods before he or she has the motor skills to swallow them may lead to infant choking. Wait until your baby is at least 4 months old to introduce pureed solid foods.
  • Don't offer high-risk foods. Don't give babies or young children small, slippery foods, such as whole grapes, hot dogs and hard candy; dry foods that are hard to chew, such as popcorn, raw carrots, sunflower seeds and nuts; or sticky or tough foods, such as peanut butter, chewing gum, marshmallows and large pieces of meat.
  • Supervise mealtime. As your child gets older, don't allow him or her to play, walk or run while eating. Remind your child to chew and swallow his or her food before talking. Don't allow your child to throw food in the air and catch it in his or her mouth.
  • Carefully evaluate your child's toys. Don't allow your baby or toddler to play with latex balloons — which pose a major hazard when uninflated and broken — small balls, marbles, toys that contain small parts, or toys meant for older children. Look for age guidelines when buying toys for your child.
  • Keep hazardous objects out of reach. Common household items that may pose a choking hazard include safety pins, coins, pen or marker caps, buttons, small batteries, baby powder and bottle tops.

What should I do if my baby chokes?

If your baby is choking, hold him or her facedown on your forearm. Then thump your baby firmly on the middle of the back using the heel of your hand. The combination of gravity and back blows will help release the object that's blocking your baby's airway. If you're concerned about your baby's breathing, call 911 or your local emergency services provider.

To prepare for an emergency, consider taking a class on cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and choking first aid for children. Encourage everyone who cares for your child to do the same.

Last Updated: 2011-04-26
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