The Most Common Parent Paranoia

by Eileen M. Ouellette, M.D., J.D., president of the American Academy of Pediatrics

The Most Common Parent Paranoia

Don’t worry if you find yourself obsessing over everything your baby puts in his mouth  — all new parents worry about choking. In fact, your concern will help your child if it forces you to take choking prevention seriously. Here’s how to protect your baby:

Know the risks. Choking occurs when food or small objects get caught in the throat or block the airway, preventing oxygen from traveling to the lungs and the brain. More than four minutes without oxygen can be fatal or cause brain damage. Tragically, one child dies from choking on food every five days in the U.S. (two thirds are under 1 year of age), and more than 10,000 children are taken to emergency rooms for related injuries every year.

Childproof your home. Even before your baby begins to crawl, get down on your hands and knees and look for things he might discover and put in his mouth. Remember to check below furniture and between and under cushions for small items. If you have older children, pay extra attention to their toys (which can have small parts that break off more easily), and be sure your baby can’t get into them. And watch your older children, too  — many choking incidents occur when big brothers or sisters give dangerous food, toys, or other objects to their younger siblings.

Play it safe. Once your baby starts eating solids, you can reduce the risk of choking by cutting his food into pieces no larger than a half inch on any side and by avoiding hard-to-chew items. Always supervise snacks and meals, and once he starts moving around, insist that he eat at a table or in his high chair. Don’t let him run, walk, play, or lie down with food in his mouth.

Choose toys wisely. Follow the age recommendations on packages. Age guidelines reflect the safety of a product based on any possible choking hazard, as well as a child’s physical and mental abilities at various ages. You can buy a cylinder at most toy stores (about the size of a toilet paper roll) to test a toy part  — if it fits through, it’s too small.

Be prepared. In addition to creating a safe environment, it’s important to know what to do in an emergency. Classes in first aid and CPR are offered by the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association. Posting a first-aid chart in your home can help you remember the skills you learn in class. For more information, visit the AAP web site at