Choking is the fourth most common cause of death for children under age 5, according to the New York State Department of Health. Infants have extremely small airways that are easily obstructed, and they do not have the neuromuscular control to prevent food or other objects from blocking their breathing, nor the strength to clear it out by coughing. What's more, infants are notorious for shoving anything they can grab into their mouth. Parents and caretakers need to be vigilant about choking hazards in an infant's environment.
Hot dogs are more likely than any other food to cause an infant to choke to death. The soft texture and round shape make it easy to obstruct a child's airway and also make it difficult to dislodge. Grapes are also both soft and rounded and pose a similar risk. Other foods that pose a high choking risk for infants are hard foods such as nuts, popcorn, carrots, ice cubes, raw peas and hard candy. These are too difficult for babies to chew properly. Sticky foods such as peanut butter, caramel and marshmallows are also choking hazards.
If you read the fine print at the toy store, you will see many, many toys labeled "Small parts. Not for children under 3 years of age." Toys and toy parts pose a major choking hazard for infants. If your baby has an older sibling, be especially careful of the elder's toys and where they're both stored and played with. Teach your older children never to share their small toys with their sibling. Watch out, too, for game parts and marbles.
Babyproof your house by putting out of reach all small household objects that could end up in your baby's mouth. Common items to look for include coins, batteries, safety pins, pen caps, buttons, drink caps, screws and jewelry. Foam bean bag filler is another choking hazard that is often overlooked by parents.
Balloons deserve their own special section, as they are the most common cause of toy-related choking deaths among children of any age, according to Boston Children's Hospital. Never let your infant play with uninflated latex balloons. If a balloon pops, clean up all the fragments immediately lest one find its way into your baby's mouth. In fact, you might want to pass on latex balloons in general for the first few years.
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