Top 10 Food Choking Hazards for Babies & Toddlers

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Children younger than 4 years old are at the highest risk of choking, since they haven’t quite mastered chewing. But, do you know which foods to avoid feeding your toddler or how to identify unsafe foods for babies? Pediatrician Catie Sandberg, DO, UnityPoint Health, identifies 10 foods not to give your little one and explains why they are unsafe for your child.

Foods to Avoid Feeding Babies

“Typically, infants may be ready for some foods, such as purees, which require no true chewing, once they have good head control and can sit well while assisted,” Dr. Sandberg says.

An infant is developmentally able to suck and swallow and is equipped with involuntary refluxes, including gagging and coughing, to help protect against breathing food into his/her airways. Dr. Sandberg says children do have to learn how to chew effectively. This might make parents and guardians hesitant about taking the step toward foods with more substance, like table foods. Dr. Sandberg says the concern is understandable.

“Children are around one-and-a-half years old before they have their first set of molars, and they don’t have a full set of childhood teeth, including the final set of childhood molars, until age 3. Although 3-year-old children have both sets of molars, they are still learning to chew and grind with their molars effectively,” Dr. Sandberg says.

10 Choking Hazards for Babies and Toddlers

Dr. Sandberg says you should be extremely cautious with the following 10 foods, especially with children under the age of four.

  1. Hot dogs. This cookout staple is a choking hazard due to the tube shape and compressibility. If you do choose to give hot dogs to children, it is safest to cut them length wise and in small pieces.
  2. Larger chunks of meat/cheese. Make sure meats and cheese are cut into small, manageable bites for babies and toddlers. Dr. Sandberg recommends avoiding cutting food into strips because children can easily bite off a piece, which is too large for them to handle.
  3. Whole grapes. This fruit is fine for babies, as long as it is prepared correctly. Grapes should be cut length wise and quartered for all young children. Grape skin can lead to choking when it separates from the grape. For babies, it is best to use cup up grapes without skin.
  4. Hard candies. Many candies, including hard candies, can cause issues because they may be the size of the airway.
  5. Taffy. This sweet treat is dangerous because it can mold and conform to block a child’s airway.
  6. Gum. Just like taffy, gum can mold just right to block a child’s airway, making it a significant choking hazard.
  7. Nuts & seeds. While healthy, these items are a choking hazard for young children largely due to children’s inability to grind food. Remember, children under four may not have all their childhood molars and are still learning this skill.
  8. Popcorn. Again, this is a risk due to a young child’s inability to chew well. If you’re wondering when babies can eat popcorn, it’s best to hold off until around the age of four.
  9. Peanut butter. Globs of peanut butter can be a choking hazard in the same way as gum, taffy and hard candies. It can conform to a child’s airway.
  10. Raw vegetables. When a whole vegetable is given, it is easy for a piece to break off, perhaps cut by the child’s incisors (front teeth). That’s when the large pieces of hard vegetable become a choking hazard.

Most children like to wiggle, but Dr. Sandberg says these 10 foods can become even more dangerous if you child isn’t sitting still.

“Be sure that children are not being active while eating. Risk increases significantly in children who aren’t focused fully on their food. High activity levels while eating, such as walking, running or talking, quickly increases risk,” Dr. Sandberg says

What is Baby-Led Weaning?

“Baby-led weaning is the process of introducing foods to your baby, which he/she can self-feed and generally avoiding spoon feeding with purees,” Dr. Sandberg says.

When starting with the appropriate baby-led weaning food, the practice can be safe and effective. However, Dr. Sandberg says it becomes a concern when infants are given foods that are not cut properly, leading to the potential for choking.

When to Start Baby-Led Weaning?

“Studies that compare baby-led weaning and spoon-feeding show there is no added risk for parents who opt for baby-led weaning, as long as parent understand choking hazards and wait until the 6 month mark to begin solid foods.” Dr. Sandberg says

Baby-Led Weaning Starter Foods

If you’re wondering how to start baby-led weaning, Dr. Sandberg suggests well-cooked vegetables, soft fruits, even meats cut into small pieces. She says it’s important to keep a close eye on all babies during baby-led weaning. Dr. Sandberg says before starting any sort of food, it’s best to talk to your child’s doctor.