Infant choking is scary, but it's largely preventable. Understand why babies are so vulnerable to choking — and what you can do to prevent infant choking. By Mayo Clinic Staff

Worried about infant choking? Find out the common causes of infant choking and what you can do to help protect your baby from choking hazards.

Choking is a common cause of injury and death in young children, primarily because their small airways are easily obstructed. It takes time for babies to master the ability to chew and swallow food, and babies might not be able to cough forcefully enough to dislodge an airway obstruction. As babies explore their environments, they also commonly put objects into their mouths — which can easily lead to infant choking.

Sometimes health conditions increase the risk of choking as well. Children who have swallowing disorders, neuromuscular disorders, developmental delays and traumatic brain injury, for example, have a higher risk of choking than do other children.

Food is the most common cause of infant choking. However, small objects, small parts from toys and certain types of behavior during eating — such as eating while distracted — also can cause infant choking.

You can take simple steps to prevent infant choking. For example:

  • Properly time the introduction of solid foods. Introducing your baby to solid foods before he or she has the motor skills to swallow them can lead to infant choking. Wait until your baby is at least 4 months old to introduce pureed solid foods.
  • Don't offer high-risk foods. Don't give babies or young children hot dogs, chunks of meat or cheese, grapes, raw vegetables or fruit chunks, unless they're cut up into small pieces. Don't give babies or young children hard foods, such as seeds, nuts, popcorn and hard candy that can't be changed to make them safe options. Other high-risk foods include peanut butter, marshmallows and chewing gum.
  • Supervise mealtime. As your child gets older, don't allow him or her to play, walk or run while eating. Remind your child to chew and swallow his or her food before talking. Don't allow your child to throw food in the air and catch it in his or her mouth or stuff large amounts of food in his or her mouth.
  • Carefully evaluate your child's toys. Don't allow your baby or toddler to play with latex balloons — which pose a major hazard when uninflated and broken — small balls, marbles, toys that contain small parts, or toys meant for older children. Look for age guidelines when buying toys for your child. Also, regularly examine toys to make sure they're in good condition.
  • Keep hazardous objects out of reach. Common household items that might pose a choking hazard include button batteries, coins, and pen or marker caps.

If your baby is choking, don't use a finger sweep, which could lodge the particle further down in the airway. Instead, hold your baby facedown on one of your forearms. The baby's head should be lower than his or her body. Then thump your baby firmly on the middle of the back using the heel of your other hand. The combination of gravity and the force from your hand will help dislodge the object that's blocking your baby's airway. If you're concerned about your baby's breathing, call 911 or your local emergency services provider.

To be prepared in case of an emergency, take a class on cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and choking first aid for children. Encourage everyone who cares for your child to do the same.

Jun. 06, 2013