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. Babies explore and play by putting things in their mouth, which increases their risk of choking and poisoning. If something goes into your baby’s hands, you can expect it to go into their mouth. 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.

Clothing

Be aware of cords and drawstrings on clothing.

  • 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 can get caught.
  • Never tie anything around baby’s neck or attach ribbons to soothers.

Food

Certain foods can be dangerous for young children because they are easily inhaled and block the 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 food that is small and firm is 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.
  • Carrots, apples and other hard fruit and vegetables should be cooked, mashed, peeled or grated.
  • Grapes should be cut into half lengthways, then into half again.
  • Meat should be minced or cut into small pieces and served 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 toys that are well made, as less sturdy toys can break easily into small parts. Avoid toys that have small parts, especially if they can be removed.

  • 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).
  • Make sure hanging mobiles are out of reach.
  • Do not allow young children to play with balloons. Popped or uninflated balloons can be inhaled into the lungs. Long strings on balloons are also dangerous.
  • When outdoors, make sure that young children are always supervised 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.

Household

  • 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), which are all easily inhaled.
  • Use curtains with rods instead of cords, young children can get caught in dangling curtain cords, which can strangle them.
  • Plastic bags, dry cleaning bags and plastic wrap are especially dangerous for young 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.

It is recommended anyone caring for children should do a first aid course and learn infant and child cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in the case of an emergency.

Services related to this information:

811 HealthLine (Newfoundland & Labrador) – Call 811 or 1-888-709-2929 / TTY 1-888-709-3555

Emergency services 

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Last updated: 2021-10-01