We asked a former paediatric nurse about the choking hazards she most often saw in the hospital emergency department.
Sarah Hunstead is a former paediatric nurse and the founder of CPR Kids. She’s seen what most commonly sends children to hospital and Sarah spoke to Feed Play Love’s Shevonne Hunt about the most common things children choke on, and how to avoid, or minimise the risk.
Listen to Sarah Hunstead on Feed Play Love:
“Cut up, sit down, supervise”
Sarah said that “cut up, sit down, supervise” should be every parent’s go-to approach when it comes to feeding their children.
“When it comes to prevention what we want to do is we want to cut up sit down and supervise,” she said. “This is the CPR Kids mantra when it comes to choking.”
“So we want to cut up their food into appropriate-sized pieces. What you want to do is have think about the shape of things, so a good example of that is grapes. They’re a lovely small pre-packaged food that comes from nature but it’s the perfect size, the perfect spherical shape, to lodge in a child’s airway.”
Blueberries, grapes, cherry tomatoes
Cut your child’s grapes and cherry tomatoes or blueberries into quarters, Sarah advised. Although it takes a bit of extra time, it’s nothing compared to what you have to lose if your child has to be rushed off to hospital.
“I had a chat to a couple of anaesthetists,” Sarah said, “because they’re the guys and girls that fish things out of kids’ airways when they choke and swallow stuff that they shouldn’t. And I said ‘what are the things that you see that we really want to talk about?'”
“And they said of course grapes, things like hard lollies, basically anything that can fit through an old school film canister.”
“They also said ‘don’t forget about the sausages’,” Sarah continued. “Kids love sausages, and often we just slice them up and those perfect little circles are great shape [to] lodge in your child’s airway. Better to cut them into batons that your kid can pick up [and] gnaw on, rather than those perfect little circles.”
Hard lollies, chewing gum and bubble gum
These are clearly an accident waiting to happen, Sarah warned.
“Are you going to give a piece of chewing gum or bubble gum to a three-year-old. No, you’re not. Absolutely not.”
Bouncy balls, Lego, button batteries
Citing the tragic death in 2018 of a little Tasmanian boy who choked on a bouncy ball, Sarah reminded parents that it’s not possible to predict every accident.
“Sometimes you just can’t prevent that kind of stuff. You just can’t,” she stressed. “There are accidents that happen and that’s why they’re called accidents.
“It’s about knowing what to do in that emergency situation, [so] that you can help or you can do the best that you can.”
Sarah advised parents to use common sense when they’re dealing with small objects around children.
“If you’ve got a five-year-old who’s obsessed with Lego and you’ve got a nine-month-old crawling around the floor, it’s probably not a good idea at that age to have all those bits of Lego around,” she pointed out.
“There is one thing that every household should do,” she urged, “and that is make sure that button batteries are out of reach because if a button battery is lodged in a child’s oesophagus, in their windpipe or their food pipe it can burn through within a couple of hours. It causes horrific damage let alone a choking risk. So keep them up and out of reach of the kids or destroy button batteries.”
Learn life-saving first aid
What else can parents do, apart from being vigilant about the sorts of choking hazards? Sarah said, be prepared and if your child begins to choke – stay calm.
“What I encourage you to do is don’t panic in that situation,” she said. “So how do you know not to panic? By knowing what to do. So make sure that you do that class where you get to practice [first aid]. Watch the videos so that if it does happen you know what to do.”
We also recommend you familiarise yourself with the procedures to follow if your baby or child is choking. Check out the step-by-step instructions here.
To hear more of our interview with Sarah Hunstead listen to Feed Play Love.
More great Feed Play Love episodes:
- Why parents need to do more than ‘kiss and drop’ at childcare centres
- How to treat the dreaded lurgy when you’re pregnant
- What are Australia’s most popular baby names?
- The condition child psychologists see most in their clinics