According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), choking rates are highest for babies under the age of 1. The majority of kids’ choking injuries are caused by food. There are three basic steps in keeping kids safe from choking:
- Keep a watchful eye on children when eating and playing
- Keep dangerous toys, foods, and household items out of reach
- Learn how to provide early treatment for children who are choking
Tips to prevent choking among babies
- Your baby should sit up while eating, and be supervised at all times.
- Don’t hurry your child when eating—allow plenty of time for meals.
- Only put a small amount of food on the tray at a time.
- Avoid round, firm foods and large chunks (hot dogs, nuts, whole grapes, hard or sticky candy, popcorn, raw carrots).
- Hot dogs are not safe for babies. If your toddler likes hot dogs, be sure to cut them lengthwise.
- Avoid stringy foods like string beans and celery.
- Avoid commercial white bread products—they can form pasty globs in your baby’s mouth.
- Offer only a few pieces of food at a time.
- Cut meat and poultry across the grain, and into tiny fingertip-sized pieces.
- Food pieces should be no larger than one-half inch in any direction. If in doubt, cut food into smaller pieces.
Suggestions for safe and healthy finger foods
- O-shaped cereals
- Whole-wheat toast
- Scrambled eggs
- French toast
- Cooked peas (no pod)
- Very ripe pear slices
- Well-cooked apple slices
- Cooked pasta pieces (consider using whole-grain pasta)
- Bite-size pieces of tofu (again no larger than one-half inch in any direction)
- Deli meat or string cheese cut into small pieces
- Bite-size pieces of avocado
- Soft-cooked beans
Tips to prevent choking among children
Kids of any age can choke on food and small objects. Believe it or not, a lot of the choking prevention advice for babies still holds for children up to 4 to 7 years old!
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that the following foods are highest risk and children under 4 years old should not eat them:
- Hot dogs or sausage (if left as is. Cut length wise and again in small pieces to make safer)
- Hard, gooey or sticky candy
- Peanuts, nuts and seeds
- Whole grapes
- Chunks of peanut butter
- Chewing gum
Additional tips to prevent choking include:
- Children under age 7 should not be given nuts, because they are still at risk for choking.
- Make sure your kids eat at the table, or at least while sitting down. No running, walking or lying down while eating.
- Mealtime needs to be supervised by adults. Older brothers and sisters are often not aware of what foods may cause a younger sibling to choke. Many choking accidents happen when older siblings give dangerous foods to younger children.
- Learn CPR and first aid for choking.
Non-food choking hazards
- Latex balloons. Believe it or not, balloons cause more childhood deaths than any other toy. Any substance that can take the shape of a child’s windpipe or airway (like balloons) is a more dangerous choking hazard than a hard, solid object. Children ages 3-8 are still at risk for choking on balloons. Keep uninflated or broken balloons out of kids’ reach, and supervise children when they are around balloons.
- Small, loose, or broken toys and parts. A small toy or part can easily become lodged in a child's ear, nose or throat. Children can be seriously injured or killed from inhaling, swallowing, or choking on objects such as marbles, small balls, toys, or parts of toys that can be compressed to fit completely into a child’s mouth.
- Other hazardous items. Round, oval, cylinder, or ball-shaped toys, toy parts or other objects. These are the biggest risk when they are the size of the child's windpipe. Some examples are coins, magnets, rubber balls, pen or marker caps, and small button-type batteries (like watch batteries). Small button batteries are especially dangerous because when swallowed they can burn a hole in your child’s esophagus in as quickly as two hours.
How do I childproof my house to prevent choking?
Each time before you set your crawler or toddler loose, get down on the ground and look for dangerous items. Remember to check under furniture and between cushions. If you have older kids, make sure your younger child can’t get to the toys with small parts.
While you are preparing your home for a new baby, start training older children to keep dangerous toys in the designated “small parts” area. Supervise kids when they are playing. Make sure your older kids don’t give dangerous toys or objects to your younger kids. Follow age recommendations on toy packages—they often are based on possible choking hazards.
Be aware also of other kinds of airway obstruction injuries such as suffocation, strangulation, and entrapment and how to prevent them and other injuries.
- How tiny batteries can cause big choking risk for kids (C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital)
- Responding to a Choking Emergency (AAP)
- Choking prevention tips (AAP)
- Video: CPR KiDS – First Aid for the choking child or baby
- Video: Conscious Child Choking
Reviewed by Sara Laule, MD
Updated by Sydney Ryckman, MD, January 2022