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Airway Obstruction: Prevention

Since most accidental child strangulations, chokings, and suffocations occur in the home, parents are well-advised to carefully childproof their homes. Another preventive step to take is to learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and infant and child first-aid before an accident occurs. Other prevention tips include the following:

  • Always supervise young children when they are eating, and make sure they sit down when they have food in their mouths.

  • Keep small items that are a choking hazard out of children's reach. Check under your furniture and between seat cushions for choking hazards, such as coins, marbles, watch batteries, buttons, and/or pen or marker caps.

  • You may want to purchase a small parts tester to help determine which items are choking hazards.

  • Make sure your child plays with age-appropriate toys.

  • Check toys regularly for damage.

  • Remove hood and neck drawstrings from young children's outerwear.

  • Do not allow children to wear necklaces, purses, scarves, or clothing with drawstrings on playground equipment.

  • Tie up or cut all window blind and drapery cords.

  • Avoid hanging anything over the crib that has cords or ribbons longer than seven inches.

  • Do not let children under age 6 sleep on the top bunk of bunk beds (they may strangle or suffocate themselves if they fall).

  • Make sure the spacing between bed guardrails, frames, and all spaces in the head- and foot-boards do not exceed 3.5 inches.

  • Avoid letting your child play on bean bag chairs that contain small foam pellets. If the bean bag chair rips, your child can inhale and choke on the pellets.

  • Do not allow young children to play with shooting toys. An arrow, dart, or pellet can be a choking hazard if shot into a child's mouth.

  • Remember to discard any plastic wrapping the toy came in. Plastic wrapping can suffocate a small child.

Infants and sleeping

The medical community recommends placing infants on their backs in their cribs to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Placing infants on their backs may also reduce the chance of choking, as infants may have a difficult time lifting their heads at first, if they are face down. The crib should adhere to national safety standards, with a firm, flat mattress. Parents should avoid putting soft bedding, toys, and other soft products, pillows, and comforters in the crib with an infant.

Reducing the risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and other sleep-related deaths

Here are recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on how to reduce the risk for SIDS and sleep-related deaths from birth to age 1: 

  • Make sure your baby is immunized. An infant who is fully immunized can reduce his or her risk for SIDS by 50 percent.

  • Breastfeed your infant. The AAP recommends breastfeeding for at least six months.

  • Place your infant on his or her back for sleep or naps. This can decrease the risk for SIDS, aspiration, and choking. Never place your baby on his or her side or stomach for sleep or naps. If your baby is awake, allow your child time on his or her tummy as long as you are supervising, to decrease the chances that your child will develop a flat head.

  • Always talk with your baby's doctor before raising the head of their crib if he or she has been diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux.

  • Offer your baby a pacifier for sleeping or naps, if he or she isn't breastfed. If breastfeeding, delay introducing a pacifier until breastfeeding has been firmly established.

  • Use a firm mattress (covered by a tightly fitted sheet) to prevent gaps between the mattress and the sides of a crib, a play yard, or a bassinet. This can decrease the risk for entrapment, suffocation, and SIDS.

  • Share your room instead of your bed with your baby. Putting your baby in bed with you raises the risk for strangulation, suffocation, entrapment, and SIDS. Bed sharing is not recommended for twins or other higher multiples.

  • Avoid using infant seats, car seats, strollers, infant carriers, and infant swings for routine sleep and daily naps. These may lead to obstruction of an infant's airway or suffocation.

  • Avoid using illicit drugs and alcohol, and don't smoke during pregnancy or after birth.

  • Avoid overbundling, overdressing, or covering an infant's face or head. This will prevent him or her from getting overheated, reducing the risk for SIDS.

  • Avoid using loose bedding or soft objects—bumper pads, pillows, comforters, blankets—in an infant's crib or bassinet to help prevent suffocation, strangulation, entrapment, or SIDS.

  • Avoid using home cardiorespiratory monitors and commercial devices—wedges, positioners, and special mattresses—to help decrease the risk for SIDS and sleep-related infant deaths.

  • Always place cribs, bassinets, and play yards in hazard-free areas—those with no dangling cords or wires—to reduce the risk for strangulation.  

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