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Small objects, including pieces of food, can be choking risks for babies and toddlers. Try to keep small objects out of reach until children are less likely to choke and are old enough to understand the risks. This is usually around three years of age.

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  • Choking can happen because children are still learning how to chew and eat properly.
  • Choking can also happen because young children are constantly putting things in their mouths as a way of learning about new objects. This can lead to them accidentally swallowing small items.
 

Choking risks

Anything smaller than a D-size battery is a choking risk for babies and toddlers. The following things should be kept away from babies and toddlers:

  • lollies
  • raw apples
  • pieces of meat (including chicken and fish)
  • nuts
  • raw carrots
  • uncooked peas
  • seeds (including popcorn kernels)
  • grapes
  • fruit pips and stones
  • hot dogs and sausages (remove skin and cut them into small pieces)
  • coins
  • toy parts (including plastic shapes, marbles and the eyes of stuffed toys)
  • balloons (uninflated or popped)
  • pebbles
  • small batteries
  • jewellery
  • the tops off pens and markers
  • any other small-sized items.

Tips for preventing choking

  • Sit while eating. Your child is more likely to choke if he eats while running around or playing, so sitting at a table or even on the floor will reduce the risk. If you sit with your child while he eats, and talk or otherwise entertain him, he’ll be less tempted to get up and run around.
  • Keep food pieces small. Until your child can chew well, give her food in pieces smaller than a pea. Anything bigger than this is hard for little children to eat safely. This is because their airways are small, and they’re still learning to swallow.
  • Cook, grate or mash hard foods,particularly hard fruit and vegetables, such as carrots and apples.
  • Avoid nuts. Children can usually eat these safely at around five years of age (unless they have an allergy). Corn chips, lollies and grapes can also be choking risks.
  • Try to keep small objects out of reach – curiosity leads children to put unusual things into their mouths. Check the floor for small objects by getting down to child height and looking around.
  • Use toys that are solid and sturdy, and avoid toys with small parts, breakable parts or brittle surfaces. Check toys for exposed stuffing and loose screws and buttons. Keep an eye out for product recall information in your local paper. Read more about dodgy toys on the CHOICE website.
  • Keep toys for small children and older siblings in separate boxes . Encourage older siblings to keep their little toys (Lego, doll clothes, beads, car parts) out of reach.

Signs a child’s airway is blocked

  • Choking noises
  • Coughing
  • Gagging
  • Wheezing
  • Worsening cough
  • Asthma
  • Seizure 
  • Stridor (a shrill rattling sound)
  • Pneumonia 
  • Sudden chest pain
You might also like to check out our illustrated guide to choking first aid. You could print it out and stick it somewhere handy, such as the fridge.

Children at higher risk

Children with a disability or chronic illness might be at higher risk of choking than other children. Studies in Australia and overseas indicate that children are more likely to choke if they have a disability such as cerebral palsy or epilepsy, intellectual disabilities, chronic asthma, or gastro-oesophageal reflux disease. If your child has one of these conditions, talk to your doctor about how best to avoid choking.

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  • Last Updated 25-01-2011
  • Last Reviewed 13-08-2010
  • Congiu, M., Cassell, E., & Clapperton, A. (2005). Unintentional asphyxia (choking, suffocation and strangulation) in children aged 0-14 years. Hazard, 60.

    Routley, V., & Ashby, K. (1997). Safe home design. Hazard, 32, 1-16.