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When do I need to worry about choking hazards?
From the time your child starts picking up things with her fingers until the age of 4 or 5, you'll need to be vigilant about choking hazards.
Children under 4 are the most likely to choke on something. This is partly because they tend to explore their world by putting things in their mouth.
It's also because they're still learning how to chew and swallow food. Babies as young as 6 or 7 months can bite off a piece of food with their new front teeth. But they won't be able to chew it well until all their molars come in and they've had lots of practice with them, usually by the time they turn 4.
Tips for preventing choking in young children
Pay attention: Supervise young children whenever they're eating. (Kids typically can't make any noise to alert you that they're choking.) That means not letting your child eat in the car while you're driving or in the stroller while you're pushing it. And watch to make sure other children don't give your child something he could choke on.
Keep kids seated: Make sure your child sits while eating. Don't let kids eat while lying down, walking, playing, or running.
Encourage slow eating: One way to do this is to make sure your child has a drink on hand during meals (like water or milk). Encourage sips in between bites to make sure your child is chewing and swallowing, and not packing her mouth with food that may cause choking.
Puree or mash baby food: Puree or mash food so it's soft enough for your baby to gum or chew.
Cut finger foods into small pieces: Once your child is ready for finger foods, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that you cut food into pieces no larger than 1/2 inch, especially dried fruits and round hard foods, such as grapes, cherries, and tomatoes. Also, cut hot dogs and sausages lengthwise before chopping. (See more guidelines for safe finger foods.)
Cook vegetables: Soft-cook veggies such as carrots, broccoli, and green beans before cutting into small pieces.
Spread nut butter thin: Dollops of peanut butter and other nut butters are a choking hazard. Spread nut butter thinly on bread or crackers. Or thin it with water or applesauce.
Choose snacks wisely: Don't give kids popcorn, gum, nuts, seeds, hard or sticky candy, or marshmallows until they're at least 4. (Seeds may be too small to choke on but can get stuck in a child’s airway and cause an infection.)
Don't use teething medication: Don't use a rub-on teething medication. It can numb the throat and interfere with swallowing.
Avoid small objects: Don't let young children play with buttons, coins, safety pins, magnets, batteries, balloons, small rocks, or anything with parts smaller than 1 1/4 inches around or 2 1/4 inches long. You can use a toilet paper roll or buy a "small objects choke tester" to help you evaluate the safety of an object. If the object fits entirely into the cylinder, it's a choking hazard.
Move the mobile: Make sure your child can't reach a hanging mobile.
Keep baby powder away: Don't allow kids to play with baby powder containers. The powder can shake free and clog your child's throat.
What to do if your child is choking
Call 911 or have someone else call. For instructions on how to clear a child's airway, see our guide to infant first aid for choking and CPR, as well as our guide for toddlers and older children.