It happens in a blink of an eye. You look over at your child and realize he is choking. He can’t cough, cry, speak or breathe. His face is bright red, and tears are streaming down his face. There is a look of fright on your child’s face. You are horrified. This is a true medical emergency. 

Knowing what to do in this situation is as simple as taking an accredited CPR class. The steps to assist a choking child or infant are easy, but it is imperative that the guidelines be correctly followed in order to be effective and to avoid injury.

One of the best ways to avoid this situation is prevention. Be aware of your infant’s/child’s environment. Long before your baby can crawl, get down on your hands and knees and view the world that your baby will see. Babies will put anything and everything in their mouth no matter how gross or disgusting it might seem to you. That is how they learn about this big, wonderful world. They explore using all of their senses, including taste. A good rule of thumb is if it fits inside the tube of a toilet paper roll, it is considered a choking hazard. For those of you who have pets and the pet food stays out throughout the day, this is a huge choking danger for a young child. Fido’s food needs to be out of reach for baby.

When it comes time to introduce your child to finger foods, learn what is considered a choking hazard. Offer only those portions that are both small in size and amount when giving your child finger foods. Children have a tendency to stuff everything at once into their mouth. Even though it is cute to see children grinning ear to ear with their cheeks full like little chipmunks, the potential to choke in this situation is great since they do not have the teeth or the jaw strength to handle such a large volume of food. Make sure that older children do not share their food with younger ones who may not be ready for it.

Some foods that are choking hazards for young children include:

  • chewy, sticky foods, such as gum, candy, peanut butter and cheese cubes
  • firm, but pliable, foods, such as hot dogs, sausages and frozen banana pieces
  • fruits and vegetables with tough or dry skins, such as raw apples and celery
  • light, dry foods, such as popcorn, pretzels and potato chips
  • rounded, small or slippery foods, such as grapes, raisins and baby carrots

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, choking is the leading cause of injury or death among children, especially those age 3 or younger.  Taking an accredited CPR class will prepare you should an infant or child in your care get choked on food or a foreign object. You can find classes and times on the American Heart Association’s website, or you can call 314.454.KIDS (5437) for assistance finding a class.

This article was written by Jill Mueller, RN, a nurse on Children’s Direct at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. For more information about choking please contact our Center for Families Resource Library.


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