Food-related choking in young children

Reduce the risk of food-related choking in babies and young children.

Young children can choke on food quite easily. This is because they have small air and food passages, are still learning to move food around in their mouths and their biting, chewing and food-grinding skills are still developing.

To minimise their risk of food-related choking:

  • Always make sure babies and young children sit down while they eat, and that someone is with them while they are eating or drinking.
  • Offer food that matches their chewing and grinding abilities.
  • 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.
  • Parents and caregivers need to learn choking first aid and CPR.

For information on choking first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), see your Well Child Tamariki Ora Health Book or the HealthEd website.

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