We’ve all heard the stories of kids choking on grapes at school. Some parents argue that the reason toddlers and some older kids choke on items like cherry tomatoes and grapes is because they weren’t introduced to how to properly bite and chew them early on. However, Megan Brennard, M.D., board certified, fellow trained pediatric ER physician at The Children’s Hospital at TriStar Centennial, disagrees.
“Introducing solid foods too soon can pose a choking hazard merely due to a child’s developmental stage,” says Brennard. She adds that a baby should be able to do the following things to start solid foods safely:
- Sit upright mostly on his or her own
- Hold their head up for long periods of time
- Move food from the spoon to the back of the mouth (young babies have a protective “tongue-thrust” reflex that pushes things out of the mouth with the tongue. This is usually present in babies under 4 – 6 months of age)
- Imitate caregivers by reaching for food or opening the mouth when a spoonful of food is presented
“Starting solid foods after your baby has developed these signs of safe feeding helps them learn different textures and temperatures of food more safely as you introduce new foods,” adds Brennard.
Common Choking Hazards
Choking on inanimate objects or even food starts earlier than you think. “Young children 6 months – 3 years are at the highest risk for choking,” says Brennard. “Children in this age group naturally explore their environment by putting things into their mouths. But even older children can choke on small food or objects, especially if they’re walking, running or playing while eating.” This may also include talking while eating as many do in the cafeteria at school.
When you pack your tot’s snack or your school child’s lunch, consider the choking hazards. “The most common food items include hot dogs, whole grapes, raw carrots, hard candy, nuts, seeds or popcorn,” says Brennard. “The most common non-food items are coins, small toys and button batteries.” Brennard also adds that latex balloons are among the most deadly choking hazard. There’s more to the list, which you can find on healthychildren.org. Did you know that while peanut butter is smooth and mashable, it’s harder for little ones to swallow? It’s on the list for unsafe foods for tots along with marshmallows, gum and more.
How to Measure Choking Hazards
Now that you know what size to cut Baby’s food to prevent choking, what about non-food items found around the house. Without someone there to tell you it’s a choking hazard, you can figure it out on your own with this handy tip: see if it fits into a toilet paper roll.
“Preventing a choking hazard is the best way to keep your child safe from a choking event,” says Brennard. “Any item that is less than 1.5 – 1.75 inches or anything that can fit inside a toilet paper roll could be a choking hazard.”
Be At the Ready
If a choking incident does happen, you should know how to help your child. “If he is able to talk and/or has a strong cough, allow him to continue coughing,” says Brennard. “If he cannot breath at all or turns pale, take action immediately and call 911.” If you’re unsure of how to help your child if he’s choking, don’t be afraid to talk to your pediatrician. You can learn the proper way to use back thrusts for children under 1 year of age or abdominal thrusts (Heimlich maneuver) in older children. If you can, take the time to learn CPR.