Home > Kids > Childhood Safety > Food Safety > Choking Hazards

Choking Hazards

There are countless things a baby or small child could choke on in your house, and a baby will put anything in his mouth. That's why keeping small objects out of reach is so important.

Among the major choking hazards are coins, paper clips, buttons, beads, pen caps, little toys, and small, disc-shaped batteries. But the most common cause of choking is the one thing children are supposed to put in their mouths—food.

Watch What They Eat

Imagine eating only with your gums. That's all the equipment babies have. It takes a long time for toddlers' teeth to emerge, and the molars, so important for grinding, are the last to make an appearance. Too often, kids swallow foods whole rather than chew them up, even when they have some teeth. The foods you give them have to be soft and cut up in small pieces.

If your baby tends to stuff too much in her mouth at once, give her only a little bit of food at a time until she learns to go slow.

Gadget Guide

A food processor or blender is a useful appliance for chopping up food for babies and toddlers.

The top choking hazards among foods are:

  • Nuts
  • Hot dogs
  • Grapes
  • Hard candy
  • Popcorn
  • Raisins
  • Raw carrots
  • Spoonfuls of peanut butter
  • Chunks of meat

The American Academy of Pediatrics says children younger than 4 years should not be given these foods or any other food that is firm and round unless it is completely chopped up. Fruits should be peeled and seeds carefully removed. Seeds can be inhaled and may lead to lung infections. Don't give kids under 5 sunflower or pumpkin seeds to eat.

Watch Out!

Be careful what your kids eat in the car. Even older kids who normally can eat hard candy safely could choke if the car bounces on a pothole, forcing the candy into the throat. If you don't want to risk having to stop your car on the interstate and administer first aid, let your kids eat only soft foods while travelling in the car.

Lollipops pose multiple threats. First, they are hard candy and should therefore be reserved for older children. Second, even an older child can be injured by a lollipop's rigid stick if he falls with one in his mouth. A safer alternative is the kind of pop that has a pliable loop in place of a stick.

Peanuts cause choking injuries among children more often than any other food. (Peanuts can also be life threatening for the growing number of children who are allergic to them.) Grapes and hotdogs pose serious hazards because their skins can easily cover a small child's windpipe. Don't give them to children under 4, and cut them up in small pieces for older ones.

Never let any child (or adult for that matter) eat peanut butter by the spoonful. Even adults have died from a glob of peanut butter that stuck on their windpipe. Instead, it should be spread in a thin layer on a cracker or small piece of bread that can be easily swallowed.

Pieces of crusty bread or bagels can turn gummy in the mouth and get stuck over the trachea. These should be not be given to babies.

You need to be cautious about how your child eats as well as what she eats. Keep her in her highchair during meals. Don't let her run around and play while she's eating. Discourage laughing or horse-play while her mouth is full, because she could inhale a piece of food.

Remember that kids can choke on any food. Always supervise yours when she's eating.

Watch Out!

The string attached to a balloon is a safety risk, too. If it's tied to a stroller or playpen, for example, a toddler could get the string around her neck and strangle. Cut it so it's no longer than seven inches.

Watch the Balloons

Balloons are one of the leading causes of asphyxiation in children. Part of the trouble is that these toys are designed to be put in the mouth, at least when they're being inflated. It's understandable, then, that a small child might put one in his mouth, swallow or breath in, and get it caught in his windpipe.

Packages of balloons are required by law to carry a warning label saying that they are hazardous to children under age 8. The risk is twice as great for kids 3 and under.

If your child is given a balloon that's already blown up, there's a chance that it will burst, and the pieces will end up in his—or a younger sibling's—mouth. Don't leave a young child alone to play with a balloon, and pick up the pieces right away if the balloon bursts or deflates.

Mylar balloons are safer than the common latex balloons because they won't break into small pieces. If you must use latex balloons, store them out of children's reach and don't allow kids younger than 8 to inflate them.


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Child Safety © 2000 by Miriam Bacher Settle, Ph.D., and Susan Crites Price. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


Zika Virus Q&A: 4 Facts for Pregnant Women & Families
Zika virus is pretty scary. Pregnant or not, learn what steps to take to protect your family from Zika, including travel restrictions and mosquito bite prevention.

Find Today's Newest & Best Children's Books
Looking for newly released books for your child? Try our Book Finder tool to search for new books by age, type, and theme!

Ommm! 5 Meditation & Mindfulness Activities for Families
Family meditation and mindfulness can help reduce anxiety and promote health and happiness. Learn some fun and easy mindfulness activities for kids, and set them on the path to inner peace!

Ready for Kindergarten?
Try our award-winning Kindergarten Readiness app! This easy-to-use checklist comes with games and activities to help your child build essential skills for kindergarten. Download the Kindergarten Readiness app today!

stay connected

Sign up for our free email newsletters and receive the latest advice and information on all things parenting.

Enter your email address to sign up or manage your account.

Facebook icon Facebook icon Follow Us on Pinterest

editor’s picks