Five Ideas to Keep Babies and Toddlers Safe from Choking

May 14th, 2013 by Dionna | 10 Comments
Posted in Carnival and Special Series, Carnival of Natural Parenting, Eclectic Learning, Healthy Living, Infants, natural parenting, Toddlers

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Welcome to the May 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Emergency Preparedness

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared their plans to keep their families safe. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


Ailia Chalk

Ailia is a mouther. She will put just about anything in her mouth. It doesn’t need to taste, smell or look appetizing – it simply needs to fit.

As a crawler, she would methodically pull bits of hair and dirt from my broom and ingest them by the fistful. When she learned to pull herself up, I caught her several times sampling morsels from the trash can. Most recently I found her happily gnoshing away on a clump of mud from the garden. I have pulled coins, marbles, legos, and other assorted toys and household objects out of her little mouth.

She is the baby – and now toddler – for whom childproofing manuals are written. Her tendency to put foreign objects in her mouth has instigated three calls to Poison Control and one visit to the emergency room.

The Twig

The $800 Twig

The scariest incident of ingestion happened right after Ailia turned nine months old. I was unloading the car, Kieran was watching Ailia crawl around on our driveway. Suddenly Kieran yelled, “Mama! Ailia is throwing up!” I ran over to check and found her gagging.

I swept her mouth and could not feel anything. I asked Kieran if he had seen Ailia with anything in her hand or mouth; he was unsure. For another minute or two, Ailia gagged like she was trying to get something up, and eventually she choked up a little pointy twig.

Covered in drool, I wasn’t sure what kind of plant Ailia had eaten, so my first call was to Poison Control (1-800-222-1222). The calm, non-judgmental voice on the other end of the line helped me feel better.

Just when I thought the ordeal was over, Ailia started gagging again. This time when she spit up a little, there was blood. She stopped gagging again, and the Poison Control representative and I chatted about how the twig might have scratched her throat. After another time or two of gagging, Ailia settled down, nursed, and fell asleep.

Ailia Hospital

She slept for about an hour. When she woke up, a friend – who also happened to be in nursing school – had stopped by our house. We were chatting about Ailia and her twig when Ailia started gagging again. Thinking that she must have another piece of the twig lodged in her throat, I decided to take her to Children’s Mercy’s emergency room. My almost-nurse friend agreed.

I gathered supplies for an ER wait (books, toys, snacks). My friend volunteered to drive so that I could sit in back with Ailia. I called another friend to come get Kieran from the ER. And I called my mom and Tom, who both decided to meet us at the hospital.

To make a long story short, Ailia only gagged once or twice more, and never in front of the doctors (of course). She was x-rayed, prodded, and pronounced to have an abrasion or laceration in her throat from the twig.

I kept the twig. That’s it in the picture up there with the quarter.

Keeping Ailia Safe: Five Ideas that Work for Us

When Kieran was little, my floors were pristine. But it’s not as easy to keep small objects out of a baby’s mouth when you have older children.

I take some solace in the fact that babies’ gag reflexes are more toward the front of their mouths, and by mouthing objects (albeit, preferably objects bigger than marbles and coins), they are actually preparing their tongues and mouths to eat solid food. When a baby gags, that is usually a good sign that they are effectively moving the object out of their mouth (this is opposed to when they choke, which means the object is lodged in their throat). As babies get older and experiment with mouthing objects and their gag reflex, the reflex moves farther back on their tongues.1

Of course I’m not advocating that you give your 6 month old marbles to play with to help her learn how to eat. (Did I even need to say that?!)

At any rate, we’ve had to be more vigilant about keeping inedible objects out of Ailia’s reach. Here are a few things we have tried with success:

1. Teach Baby What Can and Cannot Be Eaten: I don’t know why I am continuously amazed by how much babies and toddlers can understand of what we are saying, but I am. Because we use baby signs with our children, they can communicate with us much, much earlier than the average child starts to speak. This reinforces to me that babies are simply phenomenal – and we often underestimate them. What I’m trying to get at is this: talk to your little one. I’ve simply made it a habit to say to Ailia as I’m taking {insert inappropriate object} out of her mouth, “This is a marble. Marbles are to play with in our hands. Here, put this {insert appropriate chew toy} into your mouth. You can chew on {this}!” Dr. Sears calls this “distract and substitute,” but instead of merely distracting baby, use it as an opportunity to educate. And remember, there is a difference between knowing not to do something, and having the self-control not to do it. Self-control comes much later, which is why #2 is . . .

2. Watch and Intervene: Honestly, the best way to keep babies and toddlers safe is to keep an eye on them. Even when all of the rooms are childproofed, even when you think there is absolutely nothing that can harm baby, baby will find something. In our house, it’s often that Ailia has grown half an inch and can all of a sudden reach something we previously thought was out of her range. Or baby will start pulling himself up when you happen to be in the next room. But since we can’t be with our little ones every second of the day, here are a few more practical things that help in our house.

3. Clean Sweep: One method that has worked consistently is a regular sweep of a room before Ailia enters. Dump small toys into a container, then put them up at your (and your older child’s) leisure. And just like you do when you childproof a room, get down on your baby’s (or toddler’s) level – see that pebble just under the couch? The lego sticking out from under the couch cushion? Adults wouldn’t see those small things, but a creeping/cruising baby would!

In this category I’d also like to mention – get rid of your commercial cleaning products. There are so many more effective ways to clean naturally that will not leave chemicals all over your floors, toys, and other surfaces. Check out my Pinterest Board on Greening Your Home: Safe and Natural Cleaning Ideas for recipes and articles.

4. Special Toy Areas and Play Time: We’ve instituted special spaces where Kieran can play with small toys. When Ailia was creeping and crawling, this was most often at the dining room table. As Ailia has become much more mobile, that means Kieran gets special “alone time” in a completely different room. If you have a child (like we do) who does not like to play away from you for long, try setting them up with an audiobook in their play space. Kieran can sit and listen to audiobooks for hours. (Our current favorites are The BFG, Dragon Rider and Junkyard Tales, a series from Sparkle Stories).

5. Give Baby Appropriate Things to Mouth: It is little wonder that Ailia’s favorite objects and constant companions have been a green toddler toothbrush (her “eee!”) and tubes of lip balm (we buy the kind with all natural and safe ingredients that won’t make me cringe too much if she eats it). We keep handy lots of safe toys we can stick in the freezer (for when she is teething). She also still has access to nurse just about any time she wants.

And to give you real peace of mind, I’d encourage every new parent to take a class in infant and child first aid and CPR. Learn what to do if gagging becomes choking.

Keep Poison Control’s phone number handy – make sure your child’s caregivers know it, too.

Below is a list of resources on childproofing, gagging and choking, etc.

Has your child ever choked? Have you ever had to call Poison Control? Share your story in the comments!

More Resources


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by afternoon May 14 with all the carnival links.)

  1. See, e.g., the question and answer on “My baby isn’t mouthing toys, and I’ve been happy that I don’t have to be worried about choking hazards. Someone told me that I should make sure that he does mouth toys. Is that true, and why?” at Early Intervention Support; The What, Why, and How of Baby-Led Weaning

10 Responses to:
"Five Ideas to Keep Babies and Toddlers Safe from Choking"

  1. Lauren @ Hobo Mama   Hobo_Mama

    It’s always hard to know when to take children in to be seen. We just had an incident where Alrik was saying “Pee hurt!” and screaming every time he peed. So we took him in, and of course he was totally normal there, and his urine test came back clean. The doctor thought maybe he had some external irritation. But better safe than sorry, hey?

    Our scariest choking incident was when someone gave Mikko a piece of hard candy when he was about two. It lodged in his throat, and Sam raced into action with the moves he learned in Pet First Aid (yes, really) and swung him upside down and whacked his back until it flew out. Phew! I agree about taking an infant CPR course — I just did a refresher, and even though it’s scary to think of all the what-ifs, it’s good to feel prepared to handle an emergency.

  2. Charise@I Thought I Knew Mama   ithoughtiknewma

    This is such timely advice for me. Little Sister put everything in her mouth now at 11 months. We’ve done a pretty good job of following your guidelines indoors, but I find playing outside to be really tough. Thank goodness, we now have a fenced in yard so I can keep my eye on Little Sister and not have to worry about Big Brother so much. So far, she has tried to eat mostly tree bark and sticks… and a hunk of plastic that had broken off of an outdoor ride on toy :-(

  3. @Lauren, I have always chosen to err on the side of caution when it comes to ER visits.

    Dionna, your child is a goat. I can’t count how many times I’ve watched you sweep paper or grass out of her mouth! I’ve had a couple babies like that too. It can be really nerve wracking. When Adam was born, I could not get the older kids to understand how important it was keep small things like pennies and legos up off the floor. I am well adept at performing regurgitation maneuvers, you know but never as smoothly or pretty looking as they look in the classes. I think I once kneed a kid in the diaphragm to bring up rock…

  4. Luschka   luschkavo

    That must be so stressful. Ameli was never a mouther and Aviya is a little but not much. Ameli loves stones and rocks and collects them everywhere so we are a little more careful with Aviya now. We have never childproofed though, beyond binning chemical cleaners!

  5. Kristine   all_kristine

    Choking is a scary concept. Once you have a second child, it’s harder to control the environment. I like you idea of doing a quick sweep of any room. I also do that at other people’s houses. I feel like a jerk asking people if I can put their small toys away, but I know how easily and quickly a baby can put something small into their mouth. What scares me so much is the idea that you can try to do a Heimlich… and not succeed. Much better to get the object before it goes into the mouth. My daughter is 17 months old and she still puts stuff in her mouth constantly so I found this post incredibly relevant. Thanks for taking the time to write something that could save a child’s life.

    Oh- once I had to flip my kid over and whack him on the back when he choked on a biter biscuit- yeah, who thought THOSE were a good idea? Baby #2 sure didn’t get those, and I like how baby-led weaning teaches a child how to handle real food slowly but surely.
    With my son (poor first child), he once gagged/choked on the corner of a cheese stick wrapper that I saw on the floor but was going to throw away NEXT time I got up… sure enough, he ate it. That was an ER trip to get an X-ray to make the wrapper wasn’t still stuck in his throat, to dislodge as he slept or something.

    Parenting sure is humbling. You really have to up your game. What used to be good enough- i.e. leaving a wrapper on the floor for a few minutes- is no longer good enough. And that’s just one teeny tiny example. Yup, parenting is hard in ways I never expected.

  6. Momma Jorje   mommajorje

    Spencer is definitely a “mouther” or whatever, too. It always seems like the kids that put everything into their mouths are the same kids that refuse to open their mouth for you to check it or find the item!

  7. Jennifer @ Hybrid Rasta Mama   hybridrastamama

    Awesome post! Aaliyah was never a mouthy baby. I lucked out in that she never put things in her mouth. Her issue was a strong gag reflex related to food that would backfire and cause choking. We still battle this. And I totally remember the twig incident! You poor mama!

  8. Becky   craftygrdenmama

    That twig must have scared the daylights out of you. We keep the Poison Control number on the fridge in case we ever need it. It’s essential in each home!

  9. jana   janafalls

    I have a feeling that this advice will come in very handy very soon. Our son definitely falls into the category of all things go in the mouth.

    This afternoon will be our first sweep!

    Also, I’m adding our poison control phone number to my phone right now… eep!

  10. Deb @ Living Montessori Now   DebChitwood

    These are great tips, Dionna! My son and daughter-in-law are taking infant CPR, which wasn’t available when my kids were born. It would be a good idea for my husband and me to take a course like that before we become grandparents in November. I pinned your post to my Babies – Activities and Ideas Board at

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