Suffocation and choking are among the top five causes of injury and death in children age six and under. Young children are at a high risk for choking or suffocating for a number of reasons:

  • They are curious and like to put things in their mouths
  • They are unaware of dangers and often do not have the ability to remember what is dangerous and what is not
  • Their bodies are not yet fully developed; they have undeveloped throat muscles and teeth, small airways, and little experience with chewing
  • Infants are unable to lift their heads or extricate themselves from tight places, putting them at a high risk of suffocation

Suffocation is the number one cause of unexpected death for children under age one. Most of these suffocations occur in the sleeping environment. Infants can suffocate when their faces become wedged against or buried in a mattress, pillow, other soft bedding, or when someone in the same bed rolls onto them.

Children under age three are at particularly high risk for choking. Toddlers are at risk because they like to put things in their mouths, do not have all their teeth, and cannot chew large pieces of food. Babies, toddlers, and young children can easily choke if food or small objects stick in their throats and block their breathing.

What are some choking hazards?

Some common objects that can cause children to choke are:

  • large pieces of food such as pieces of hot dogs, fruits, or vegetables
  • bones
  • candies
  • gum
  • nuts
  • small household items such as earrings, batteries, keys, or buttons
  • balloons
  • coins
  • pieces of toys.

How to reduce the risk of your child choking

Balloons:

  • Do not use latex balloons as toys. Balloons or pieces of popped balloon can cause choking. Use foil balloons instead.
  • If you do allow your child to play with balloons, supervise him or her closely. Do not let your child put balloons or balloon pieces in his or her mouth.

Food Safety:

  • Grate hard fruits and vegetables such as carrots and apples
  • Cut softer fruits and vegetables into small pieces such as grapes and cherries
  • Remove all bones from food such as chicken
  • Cut hot dogs into long thin strips, and then cut those strips into small pieces. If pieces of hot dog are too big, they can plug your child’s airway.
  • Do not give nuts, popcorn, gum, or hard candy to children under four.
  • Teach your child to sit still while eating and chew his food completely.

Pacifiers:

  • If you have decided to give your baby a pacifier check the pacifier regularly. Make sure the nipple part is firmly attached to the handle. If it is not, the soft part could come off, causing your baby to choke. Throw out the pacifier when the nipple part has cracks or when it becomes sticky.
  • When your baby starts teething explore different comfort measure for your baby. Give your baby a teething ring instead.
  • Do not attach strings or cords to a pacifier. It can result in strangulation.

Plastic Bags:

  • Plastic bags are a common source of danger.
  • Keep plastic bags out of children’s reach.
  • Tie a knot in the middle of used bags or cut into pieces to prevent choking or suffocation.

Toys:

  • Check toys regularly for broken or loose parts.
  • If a toy is labeled as not recommended for children under three years of age, the toy contains small parts and is a choking hazard.

Cribs:

  • Older cribs manufactured before September 1986 do not meet government safety standards and should not be used. It is illegal to sell or advertise these cribs. These cribs are often sold at garage sales and flea markets, or found in cottages or relatives homes.
  • You can be confident that new cribs sold in stores meet safety regulations. The date of manufacture must appear on the crib.
  • Mattresses that are too soft or worn down in any area could cause a gap or hollow where a baby’s head could become trapped causing the child to suffocate.
  • Mattresses should fit snugly on all sides of the crib and should have a firm surface.
  • The mattress should not be more than 15 centimetres thick. Ensure the mattress fits snugly so there are no spaces where a child’s head or limbs can get caught. The space between the mattress and the sides of the crib should not be more than 3 centimetres. Pushing the mattress into one corner will help to ensure that the mattress is sung enough.
  • Babies should never be harnessed or tied in a crib, and should not be left in a crib with a necklace, elastic band, scarf, or a pacifier on a long cord that could cause strangulation.
  • Keep the crib away from window curtain or blind cords. The baby’s neck could become entangled in one of the cords or strings, resulting in strangulation.
  • For greater safety, do not place a baby under two years of age on an adult bed without adult supervision. Never place a baby on a waterbed.
  • Avoid pillows, comforters, stuffed toys and bumper pads in the baby’s crib.
  • Ensure crib slats are no wider than 6 centimetres (2 2 inches). If you can slide a pop can through the slats, the crib is unsafe. A child’s head may slip between the slats, resulting in suffocation and other possible injuries.

Playpens:

  • If purchasing a used playpen, make sure the sides are made of mosquito-type netting. If the mesh is larger, buttons or hooks on clothing could get caught. Sides must be firm and sturdy and should be checked regularly for damage.
  • Make sure side latches are in their fully closed position when setting up a playpen.
  • Never leave an infant in a drop-sided playpen with the side down. The infant can roll into the space between the mattress and the mesh side and suffocate.
  • Never put scarves, necklaces or cords in the playpen or around a child’s neck. These items can catch and strangle a child.
  • Vinyl rails of playpens or mattress pads with tears can be dangerous. A child can bite off small pieces and choke.

Playground and Backyard Play Equipment:

  • Children have died as a result of their clothing or drawstrings getting caught on playground equipment or on fences. Other children have died when they became entangled in ropes or skipping ropes attached to playground equipment.
  • Never tie mittens or anything else on a cord around a child’s neck.
  • Remove drawstrings on children’s clothing.
  • Always remove ropes and skipping ropes tied to slides and other playground equipment.

Related Links

Choking Prevention – Parachute Canada