Breathing emergencies such as choking are a leading cause of injury-related death to Canadian children.

An estimated 44 children age 14 and under die every year in Canada from choking, suffocation and strangulation and another 380 are hospitalized for serious injuries.

Children who survive may suffer brain damage because they have been deprived of oxygen for a period of time.

Tips to prevent choking

Keep choking hazards away from children under four years of age, including:

Small objects

If an object fits through a cardboard toilet paper roll, it can cause a young child to choke. Puzzle pieces, toys, building blocks: all should be larger in those years when children put everything in their mouths. Read more about this topic in the Play Time section of our Home Safety information page.

Latex balloons

Close-up of coloured, deflated balloons on a wooden table

A piece of latex balloon can easily block a child’s airways and stop a child from breathing. Make sure to throw away broken balloon pieces immediately. Mylar (foil) balloons are a safer option. When these balloons break into small pieces, they do not block a child’s airway.

Some hard, round and sticky foods

Some specific foods are unsafe for children under four: hard candies, cough drops or gum, popcorn, marshmallows, peanuts or other nuts, seeds and fish with bones. Avoid snacks that use toothpicks or skewers at this age.

Prepare food with safety in mind

Introducing solid foods supports your child’s nutritional well-being and should begin around six months (for healthy term infants). While adding new tastes and textures, prepare foods appropriately to prevent choking:

Close-up of finely chopped carrots on a cutting board
  • Cut hot dogs and sausages lengthwise or dice them
  • Chop foods with fibrous or stringy textures, such as celery or pineapple, into small pieces.
  • Grate or thinly slice raw vegetables or hard fruit, such as carrots and apples.
  • Remove the pits from fruit.
  • Cut grapes and grape tomatoes into quarters.
  • Spread nut or seed butters thinly on crackers or toast (not soft bread).
  • Serve boneless fish or remove bones before serving.

Supervise infants and young children while eating

  • Ensure your child is sitting upright and not lying down, walking or running.
  • Avoid eating while in a moving vehicle. Your child is at risk of choking if the vehicle suddenly stops and you maybe be unable to safely help them if you are driving.
  • Know what to do if choking happens by learning first aid.