17 Surprising Choking Hazards For Babies And Toddlers

Be on the lookout for foods and materials unsafe for little mouths

A heartbreaking plea making the rounds on social media from a grieving father is a sobering reminder of how simple things can pose such a threat. In this case, a little girl swallowed a button battery, which lodged in her throat asymptomatically. While her parents remained unaware it was there, a chemical reaction between the battery and her saliva began to burn her esophagus. By the time they realized, it was too late.

Choking is a leading cause of death or injury in North America. This is scary—trust me, I know. I watched my (then) three-year-old son choke on a chicken nugget, and it was the longest five seconds of my life. Thankfully, he was okay, but I shook for 45 minutes.

But like all things in parenthood that frighten us, it does no good to be paranoid and full of worry. What does help is being prepared.

Anything that fits through a toilet paper roll can be a choking hazard or at risk for lodging in a child’s throat.

Food is the most common choking hazard, but some foods are more problematic than others.

Hot Dogs

I spoke with paramedic Stephanie Coletta, who named hot dogs as the most common cause for choking in her personal experience, and stated that it is generally because they are cut incorrectly. Hot dogs need to be sliced lengthwise before being cut into smaller pieces. Round pieces, either cut or bitten off, are just the right shape for lodging in a little one’s throat.

Grapes

Stephanie also cited grapes as a major concern. Most people have heard that grapes need to be cut in half, but which way matters. Cutting them vertically like a hot dog bun (not horizontally like a hamburger bun) lowers the risk. Ideally, quarter them instead of halving them. This goes for older children too, not just toddlers.

Marshmallows

This expandable sweet treat is extremely dangerous for young children, who can easily get one lodged in their throats.  

Raw Vegetables

Some raw vegetables like carrots should be blanched before giving to a toddler, and some, like celery, should not be given to young toddlers at all.

Meat

Be careful of bones in fish and chicken, and avoid large or tough pieces of meat.

Pretzels

With pretzels, it is less about the danger of choking (though that can be a risk) as it is the risk of salt being inhaled.

Apples

Always peel the skin for babies and toddlers, and be careful with slices. ER nurse Shauna Elliot has seen several cases of children choking on apple pieces.

Hard Candy or Nuts

Again, these are the perfect size and shape for choking.

In addition to food, toys and other small objects post a threat of both choking and injury after swallowing.

Coins

Respiratory Therapist Jeannine Medland cites coins as the object she has most seen lodged in throats which need to be removed.

Small Toys and Broken Toys

Give toys the toilet paper roll test, and check regularly for broken or loose parts. When in doubt, throw away the broken toy. Latex balloons can also be a choking hazard so be sure to supervise.

Broken Pacifiers and Bottles

Like toys, these need to be checked every use for damage and wear and tear.

Hair Barrettes and Jewelry

This includes yours and theirs. Those hair barrettes are super cute, but as a toddler room teacher, I cannot count how many I have fished out of little mouths. Necklaces and earrings, on you or on them, can also pose a risk to babies and toddlers.

Balls and Marbles

Like grapes, small bouncy balls and marbles are the exact right size and shape for choking. 

Button Batteries

As we saw with the above-mentioned tragedy, button batteries pose a big risk to little ones. In the age of electronics, button batteries are in many devices, and we often have spares sitting around. Treat button batteries like you would medication and cleaners, and store them away from children.

Magnets

Swallowing one magnet is a choking hazard, but swallowing two or more is an emergency requiring an immediate hospital visit. The magnets will seek each other out inside the body and can cause tissue damage, especially to the intestines.

Corners of Milk Bags

You know those triangles you cut off milk bags? According to CPR instructors, they are one of the most dangerous choking hazards. If swallowed or inhaled, they can block the airway but are too light to be removed by Heimlich maneuver.

Stickers

I know, at this point everything seems off limits, right? Of course, toddlers are going to use stickers—just watch them closely, particularly with the foil backed ones. Like the milk bag corners, if they do get stuck, they are harder to remove.

This is not a comprehensive list, but it gives an overview of some of the most common risky objects.

In addition to being proactive with objects, taking a class on infant and child CPR would be very beneficial. When my son choked on the chicken nugget, all three adults who were with him, including myself, were CPR certified and we knew what to do. It was still terrifying, but knowing what to do, and what not to do, made a huge difference. It’s well worth the investment, even when you hope you will never need it.

It’s daunting being a parent. Everything is scary, and it is tempting to just shut down with worry. My intention with this list is not to scare or panic you, just to provide you the with knowledge of what to look out for. Once you know what you are looking for, it becomes a habit to scan the room, and they will stand out like neon signs.

You’ve got this.

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