With people staying at home and our hospitals under enormous pressure, it's more important than ever to prevent injuries from happening. Here is some information about why choking incidents happen and the simple things we can all do to avoid these preventable accidents. 

It sounds obvious (but is often overlooked) that children aren’t mini versions of adults. They differ in a myriad of ways, which makes them magical, but these differences can also put them at risk.

They’re smaller – in height and weight and inside! Their windpipes are narrower and still growing. Consider also that babies have large, heavy heads and it takes time for their neck muscles to strengthen. And that babies and younger children lack dexterity, strength or motor skills to get themselves out of trouble.

This means that many small pieces of food which may seem okay could actually be dangerous to them.

Think of a 2 pence piece – get one out now and take a look. The diameter is roughly the size of a child’s windpipe. Imagine the windpipe is also soft and far more delicate than an adult’s.

Each day around 40 under-5s are rushed to hospital after choking on something, or swallowing something dangerous.

Be particularly aware of sweet items such as mini eggs around Easter time - these are exactly the same size as a toddler's airway.


How to stop your children from choking

Babies

Babies' throats are narrow so they can easily choke when drinking or on small objects. They may not be very mobile, but babies can still grip and grab! They explore the world by touching things, and often putting things in their mouths. 

  • Bottles. It’s dangerous to prop a baby up to feed. If they choke they wont be able to push the bottle away.

  • Toys and small objects. Even small babies can grab and reach for things that they shouldn’t. Coins, buttons, small batteries, small parts from toys, anything that catches their eye could end up in their mouth. It’s always best to keep small objects out of reach. 

Toddlers

Toddlers are still learning to chew, swallow and breathe, so they can easily choke on food, especially if they’re not concentrating. 

  • Food. Even something as small as a grape can cause a toddler to choke. Reconstituted meat, like hot dogs and burgers, is the one of the main dangers along with hard sweets and nuts. Always cut up food to make it safer to eat.

  • Eating. It’s easy to choke if you’re wriggling around, and many toddlers will wriggle while they eat. Stay with toddlers when they are eating and encourage them to sit still and concentrate.

  • Toys and small objects. Toddlers will grab for small objects and put them in their mouths in the same way that babies will. They also like to put things in their ears or up their nose. It’s normal for them to try, but try to teach them not to! Toys for children under 36 months are designed without small parts – this is to stop your child accidentally swallowing or choking on something. Keep toys designed for older children away from your toddler.

Young children (between 3-7)

By the age of 3 most children have grown out of putting everything in their mouths. But parents know their children best and will know if they still need to keep toys with small parts away. The biggest risk of choking still comes from food. 

  • Food. Although much better at eating safely, older children are still at risk from choking. Hard foods like sweets or ice cubes, can be dangerous.

  • Toys and small objects. Children are now old enough that they can learn not to put things in their mouths. Some parents of younger children in this age group choose to avoid all toys with small parts if their children are still keen on tasting everything! But older children in this group will be able to play with more complicated toys.

Older children

It’s less likely that an older child will choke on food at the dinner table. But just think of all the running around they do! At this time it is more likely that a child will choke on food while they’re on the go. 

  • Sitting still not only gives Mum and Dad a break, but will give older children a chance to chew and swallow properly! Keep an eye out for dangerous food items - chewing gum, bubble gum, sweets and ice cubes are the ones to watch. 

Remember

Babies and young children are still learning to chew, swallow and breathe in the right order. There’s no sound to warn you. But there are simple ways to stop it happening.

  • Don’t prop a baby’s bottle up to feed them
  • Cut round food like grapes, tomatoes and big blueberries in half lengthways or quarters, not just across
  • Cut hard food like carrots, apples, sausages and cheese into thin strips, and chop nuts up small
  • Avoid popcorn, marshmallows and hard round sweets like mini eggs or boiled sweets
  • Put small parts from older children’s toys out of reach
  • Watch the Chokeables film for first aid advice sja.org.uk/thechokeables.

Free resources:

To help parents and carers who may be confused by conflicting advice, we compiled a quick guide written in plain English that covers the essentials of preventing a food-choking accident.

This essential one-pager has proven to be really popular with parents and practitioners. 


More resources

If you work with parents the following resources can really help in terms of raising awareness of choking hazards and prevention.