Babies and young children have an increased risk of choking on food. This is because they have small air and food passages. They are also learning to move food around in their mouths and learning how to bite, chew and grind food. It takes some years for children to master these skills and many don’t truly master chewing until four years of age.
While it is not possible to remove all risk, it can be reduced by following the recommendations based on these three areas:
- A safe physical environment when eating
- First aid
- Providing appropriate food
1. A safe physical environment when eating
Take the following actions to provide a safe physical environment for babies and children while they are eating:
Supervise babies and children when they are eating.
Minimise distractions and encourage children to focus on eating.
Ensure there is a designated time where children sit down to eat, rather than continuous grazing.
Ask children not to talk with their mouths full.
Have children sit up straight when they are eating. Sitting down and maintaining good posture are essential for safe eating and drinking. Do not allow walking, running or playing while children are eating.
Place food directly in front of the child. This helps to prevent them twisting around to the left or right, which can cause them to lose control of the food in their mouth.
2. First aid
- Parents and caregivers need to learn choking first aid and CPR (for information on choking first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation, see your Well Child Tamariki Ora Health Book or the HealthEd website).
3. Providing appropriate food
Be aware of foods which are more likely to cause choking:
- small hard foods that are difficult for children to bite or chew (eg, nuts, large seeds, popcorn husks, raw carrot, apple, celery)
- small round foods that can get stuck in children’s throats (eg, grapes, berries, raisins, sultanas, peas, watermelon seeds, lollies)
- foods with skins or leaves that are difficult to chew (eg, sausages, chicken, lettuce, nectarines)
- compressible food which can squash into the shape of a child's throat and get stuck there (eg, hot dogs, sausages, pieces of cooked meat, popcorn)
- thick pastes that can get stuck in children’s throats (eg, chocolate spreads, peanut butter)
- fibrous or stringy foods that are difficult for children to chew (celery, rhubarb, raw pineapple)
Reduce the risk of choking on these foods - you can:
- alter the food texture - grate, cook, finely chop or mash the food
- remove the high risk parts of the food - peel off the skin, or remove the strong fibres
- avoid giving small hard foods, such as whole nuts and large seeds, until children are at least five years old