Choking refers to the interruption of breathing due to a blockage in the airway. It is different than gagging (which is not dangerous and very common when starting solid foods). Choking is something all parents of young children worry about. Taking an infant & child CPR class and knowing how to prevent choking are the best strategies to alleviate the stress and keep mealtimes calm.
Safety Tips for Eating
When feeding your baby or toddler there are some important steps you can take to make eating safer:
Always supervise your child while they are eating. This is one of the many benefits of eating together with your child. Choking usually silent and you won't be able to respond quickly if you are distracted or in another room.
Children should be seated upright while eating. Avoid letting your child eat while moving around, lying down, or sitting in a stroller or car seat.
Minimize distractions. Not only can toys, tv, or electronics distract from mindful eating they can also distract your child from eating safely.
Never put finger foods in your child's mouth. If you are choosing to spoonfeed, only food with a puree/lumpy texture should be fed to your baby. If you are offering your baby finger foods, they should be putting it in their own mouth. Adults can accidentally bypass the gag reflex which can cause your baby to choke rather than gag on food.
It may surprise you to know that current research has found no increased risk of choking for babies, ready for solids, who self-feed with finger foods when the proper steps are taken to ensure the food served is safe. Many babies will gag when they are starting solid foods, this is natural and part of the learning process. To safely offer finger foods to your baby ensure that foods are approximately the size of an adult pinky finger and a texture that can be easily mashed between your tongue and roof of your mouth.
As your child grows you will notice their eating ability growing and improving. You will begin to gain confidence in their eating ability and offer a greater variety of foods that they couldn't eat as an infant. However, there are still many foods that should be avoided or modified for young children. Mature coordination of chewing develops sometime between 3-6 years of age. Pay attention to your toddler's eating ability and only offer foods that you know are safe.
Common Choking Hazards
There are some foods that should be avoided entirely for children under age 4 to prevent choking, and others that can be safely modified. Here are some common choking hazards to be aware of:
Sticky candy (including gummy vitamins)
Nuts and Seeds: Serve thinly spread nut butters for babies and chopped nuts for toddlers (large clumps of nut butter can also be a choking hazard)
Small Round Foods (grapes, grape tomatoes, olives): slice in quarters lengthwise, peel for babies under 12 months
Hot dogs and Sausage: slice in quarters lengthwise (not recommended for babies under 12 months due to sodium content)
Carrots and hard vegetables: serve cooked or grated, can transition to raw matchsticks for toddlers with a good chewing ability (around 18 months)
Apple: serve cooked or grated, can transition to raw, peeled, thin slices for toddlers with a good chewing ability (around 18 months)
Just because these foods are considered choking hazards doesn't mean your child will choke if they eat them (or eat them without modification) but taking extra precautions can help to prevent the worst. Always ensure you and other caregivers are aware of how to react if choking does occur, I highly recommend all parents take a CPR class.