Suffocation – Choking/Strangulation

Suffocation, choking and strangulation are the leading cause of unintentional injuries and death in infants and young children in Canada.  Many of these injuries are preventable with understanding the child’s stage of development, skills and behaviour patterns and safe proofing the environment.

Young children and babies are naturally curious and are always exploring their environment. If something goes into your baby’s hands, you can expect it to go into their mouth. This increases their risk of choking and poisoning. Babies and toddlers have small airways that are easily blocked. In addition, their reflexes are not well developed and their bodies are not very strong, so they may have difficulties getting themselves out of trouble.

If your child is choking or having trouble breathing, immediately call 911 for an ambulance.

There are a number of items in and around the home that present a choking, suffocation or strangulation risk to infants and young children.


Cords and drawstrings on clothing pose a strangulation risk.

  • When choosing clothing, avoid ties, ribbons or crocheted jackets that may pull tight.
  • Always remove a baby’s bib before putting them down to sleep.
  • Avoid necklaces and other jewelry that dangles.
  • Never tie anything around baby’s neck or attach ribbons to soothers.


Certain foods are dangerous for young children because they are easily inhaled and block breathing tubes. These include nuts, raw carrots and other hard vegetables, pieces of apple, popcorn, corn chips and grapes. Children under the age of three years may not have their full set of teeth and can’t chew properly, so any small or firm foods can result in a choking hazard.

  • Ensure young children sit quietly while eating or drinking.
  • Never force young children to eat, as this may cause them to choke.
  • Never give whole nuts to children under five years of age.
  • Cook, mash, peel or grate hard fruits and vegetables such as carrots or apples.
  • Cut grapes in half lengthwise and then half again.
  • Cut meat into small pieces or serve minced or without bones.
  • Hold your baby while they drink from a bottle – do not leave them alone with a bottle propped up.

Toys and play equipment

Choose age-appropriate well-made toys. Less sturdy toys can break easily into small parts. Avoid toys that have small or removable parts.

  • Don’t allow your baby or young child to have access to toys smaller than a D-sized battery (e.g. marbles, small building blocks or small bouncy balls).
  • Hang mobiles out of reach.
  • Do not allow young children to play with balloons. Popped or uninflated balloons inhaled into the lungs can cause suffocation. Cut long strings on balloons.
  • When outdoors, supervise young children on rope swings, as these can present a strangulation hazard.
  • Keep picnic/camping coolers and large plastic storage boxes out of children’s reach. A curious young child can climb or fall inside, causing the lid to shut.


  • Coins, small magnets and small batteries – make sure that any toys containing batteries have the battery compartment lid screwed on tightly.
  • Buttons, beads, marbles, the tops of ballpoint pens and polystyrene beads (found in stuffed toys and bean bags), can be easily inhaled.
  • Use curtains with rods instead of cords. Children can get caught in a dangling cord which can strangle them.
  • Keep plastic bags, dry cleaning bags, and plastic wrap away from babies and children. A child can easily suffocate if these items are pulled over their head
  • Do not allow your infant to sleep on a couch or waterbed or adult bed. These soft surfaces can trap baby’s face and cause suffocation. Crib mattresses should fit tightly into the crib with no gaps that could entrap a baby’s head.
  • Keep all prescription and over-the-counter medicine, alcohol, tobacco and tobacco-like products, cannabis and other drugs locked up, out of sight, and in their original containers. Child-resistant caps on medicine bottles help but they’re not childproof.
  • Keep items such as household cleaners, dishwasher and laundry pods or detergents, garden products and cosmetics locked away and out of reach and out of sight of your child.

Anyone caring for children should complete a first aid course that includes Infant and child cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

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Last updated: 2024-03-27