By Raising Children Network
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Mum watching toddler eat at table

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Choking can happen because young children are constantly putting things in their mouths as a way of learning about new objects.
 
Choking risks for babies and toddlers include objects smaller than a D-size battery. Try to keep small objects out of reach until your child is less likely to choke. This is usually around three years of age.

Choking risks

Anything smaller than a D-size battery is a choking risk for babies and toddlers. This includes:

  • food items such as 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
  • household items such as coins, small batteries, the tops off pens and markers, and jewellery
  • toys and toy parts such as plastic shapes, marbles, the eyes of stuffed toys and balloons (uninflated or popped)
  • garden objects such as pebbles
  • any other small-sized items.
Product Safety Australia’s free, do-it-yourself choke check tool can help you identify toys and other objects that pose choking or ingestion hazards.

Tips for preventing choking

These tips can help you protect your child from 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 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 chew and swallow properly.
  • 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 three 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 toys for small children and older siblings in separate boxes. Encourage older siblings to keep their little toys out of reach. This might include Lego, doll clothes, beads, car parts and so on.
Visit or subscribe to Product Safety Recalls Australia website to keep an eye out for product recall information.

Airway blockages and choking

Choking happens when a child’s airway gets blocked. Many different things can cause partial or complete airway blockage and choking, including:

  • asthma
  • seizures
  • pneumonia
  • trauma
  • anaphylactic reaction
  • inhaled object.

If a child is unconscious and the muscles in his airway relax for some reason, this can also lead to an airway blockage and choking.

Signs a child’s airway is blocked

The following signs can tell you that a child’s airway is partially blocked and the child might be choking:

  • loss of voice 
  • choking noises
  • coughing that keeps getting worse
  • gagging
  • wheezing
  • anxiety and agitation
  • stridor (a shrill rattling sound)
  • sudden chest pain

The following signs can tell you that a child’s airway is completely blocked:

  • The child is trying to breathe.
  • The child can’t make any sounds.
  • No air is getting out of the child’s nose and/or mouth.
  • The child’s skin goes pale or blue in colour.
  • The child starts to lose consciousness quickly.

What to do for an airway blockage

If you think a baby or child has an airway blockage, phone 000 immediately.

For a baby aged under one year, you should also do the following:

  • Lay baby downwards on your forearm or over your thigh.
  • Always support head and neck.
  • Encourage coughing while waiting for ambulance to arrive.

For a child aged over one year, you should also do the following:

  • Encourage the child to lean forward.
  • Encourage coughing while waiting for ambulance to arrive.
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.

Children are more likely to choke if they have a disability such as cerebral palsy or epilepsy, intellectual disability, 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.

 
 
 
  • Last updated or reviewed 25-02-2015