Choking is one of the greatest dangers that face young children in the Kansas City area.  Children under the age of three face higher risks from choking based on many factors.  Objects in a young child's universe pose a great threat, as do the new solid foods they experience.  Other objects can pose risk as well.  A young child may not be able to communicate breathing difficulty as well as an older child or an adult.  Very young infants lack the ability to move and may become choked more easily.

Before their first birthday, most babies have been offered their first taste of solid foods.  Eating is an acquired skill babies are not born with.  In fact, until a child reaches the age of four, he is still learning to coordinate breathing and swallowing without food particles going down the wrong way.  A few safety tips to note:
  1. Only offer mushy, strained foods in the beginning.  Small babies must learn to adapt to the new consistency of even the softest foods.  Never offer a little one food he is not ready for.  Follow recommended guidelines for introducing babies to solid foods.  If the baby seems to gag after the first couple of bites, put the new food off for a few weeks longer. 
  2. Toddlers face choking hazards at the table as well.  The biggest threats to toddlers are foods that can get lodged in their throat blocking the airway.  Often well meaning parents and caregivers will offer toddlers adult foods cut into small pieces.  Sliced hot dogs, for example, are the perfect size to fit over the windpipe.  Even grapes that are cut in half pose a threat.  Instead, offer soft foods that are mushy or cut into very small pieces.
  3. Peanuts, hard candies, and popcorn should never be given to toddlers.  These foods are too hard for their small throats to handle.

Every once in a while, another toy recall will make the evening news with warnings to parents to remove the object from the toy box.  Many recalls focus on small parts that can come apart from the toy and post a choking hazard.  Watch for labels on new toys that indicate age appropriateness.  Vending machine toys are never meant for children under three.  Ask for age specific kids' meal toys at fast food restaurants as well.

A great way to know if a toy is safe for children under three is the toilet paper tube test.  Take the core from a roll of toilet paper, toys that are small enough to fit inside the tube are small enough to be choking hazards.

Finding second hand toys are a great way for parents to save money; however, it is necessary to inspect these toys carefully.  Check for recent recalls on the Consumer Product Safety Commission's (CPSC) recall page and dispose of toys that have been recalled.  Inspect for small parts that have been damaged through normal wear and tear.  Nothing is a bargain of it poses a choking risk to a small child.

Balloons are one toy that should never make it into small hands.  The risks are too great.  Pieces of broken balloons can become lodged over a child's airway.  The more a child struggles to cough the material up, the more it can become lodged.  Never give a child a balloon.

Most strangulation accidents involving children take place at home.  Blind cords, pacifier strings, necklaces, decorations, and even clothing drawstrings can all strangle a child when the string gets wrapped around their small necks.  Remove any strangulation hazard from clothing.  Never tie a pacifier to a string.  Short lanyards with clips on either end are available to keep track of the pacifier and pose no danger of wrapping around the child's neck.

Sadly, approximately 40 small children die each year after becoming trapped in a defective crib.  Check the CPSC recall website regularly for crib recalls.  Do not use second hand furniture unless it meets crib safety standards.  If the space between the slats is big enough for a can of soda to fit through, it is large enough for a baby to become trapped and suffocate.

Other suffocation risks for children include poor fitting mattresses on youth beds and bunk beds.  New standards issued it 1999 require bunk beds to follow.  As with cribs, check recalls and safety standards carefully before allowing a child to sleep in a used bed.

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James Roswold
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James Roswold is a Kansas & Missouri personal injury, workers comp, and medical malpractice attorney.