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Tips to Lower a Toddler's Choking Risk

It’s normal for curious young children to explore their surroundings. But, part of this behavior includes putting food and objects in their mouths. These can get stuck in their windpipe (trachea). This can make it hard or impossible for them to breathe. Choking sends thousands of infants and toddlers to emergency rooms each year.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and other experts have worked for years to warn parents and child caregivers about choking risks. They have also worked to improve the safety of toys and products meant for kids.

Make mealtimes safe

Food is the most common cause of choking in small children. Before age 4, children aren't able to grind their food into small pieces. Protect your child by making eating safe. Don't give your child certain foods until they are age 4.

At meals:

  • Supervise your child. Don't leave your child alone while they eat.

  • Sit your child upright in a highchair.

  • Tell them not to eat and talk at the same time.

  • Cut your child's food into small pieces. Do this until their molars come in.

  • Tell your child not to run with food in their mouth.

Don't allow a child younger than age 4 to have these foods:

  • Hot dogs

  • Nuts or seeds

  • Chunks of peanut butter

  • Chunks of meat or cheese

  • Popcorn, pretzels, potato chips, corn chips, and similar snack foods

  • Hard, gooey, or sticky candy

  • Whole grapes

  • Raisins

  • Raw vegetables, especially hard ones

  • Chewing gum

If hot dogs are the only food you have, remove the tough skin. Cut the meat into small pieces.

Keep small objects out of reach

Nonfood objects are also a choking threat. Keep small household items and toys with small removable parts out of toddlers' reach. Be sure to remove common hazards, such as:

  • Uninflated or popped balloons

  • Coins

  • Marbles

  • Tiny balls

  • Pen caps

  • Button-type batteries

  • Pins

Balloons are the toys most often involved in deadly choking accidents. If a child bites on an inflated latex balloon, it can pop, enter the lungs, and choke the child. Broken pieces of a balloon can also be dangerous. A young child may pick a piece up and put it in their mouth.

If a child chokes

Choking can happen even if you are careful. If a child chokes:

  • If your child has a forceful cough and is crying or able to speak or make sounds, let them try to get the food or object out on their own.

  • If your child can't make a sound, call 911. Then do abdominal thrusts. Learn the version that's right for your child's age. The American Heart Association gives standard procedures for choking victims of all ages.

  • Once the food or object comes out, take your child to a healthcare provider. A piece of the object may remain in the lung. Only a healthcare provider can tell if your child is OK.

Online Medical Reviewer: Liora C Adler MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Maryann Foley RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Turley Jr PA-C
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2022
© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.