Choking hazards: how to keep your little ones safe this holiday

Dec 21, 2023, 6:47 PM | Updated: Dec 22, 2023, 6:36 am

SALT LAKE CITY — During this time of year, every parent needs to be extra vigilant. The various holiday foods, decorations and toys are all items that could endanger a young child.

“The choking hazards definitely increase during the holidays,” said Ryan Wirth, founder of Baby Safe CPR.

Wirth has over 10 years of experience teaching first aid and CPR. He currently serves the Wasatch Front teaching infant safety classes to new and expecting parents at their homes.


What to do if your child is choking

Wirth said if your baby starts to cough or cry, look in their mouth for the object and sweep it out with your pinky.

“It’s important to note, if you cannot see it, you cannot sweep it,” he said. “Just putting your fingers in the mouth is going to do more harm than good.”

But if your baby is unable to cry or make noise and you notice a change in skin color, call 911 and take action immediately.

Wirth said the Heimlich maneuver does not work on infants — it’s only advised for children aged one year and older. If your child is 12 months old or younger, pick up the baby, support their head, and start with back blows.

“Five firm back blows right in between the shoulder blades,” Wirth said.


Next, rotate the infant over and use two or three fingers to give five compressions in the center of the chest, right on the sternum.

“We just keep going back and forth with this five and five until something changes — the object either comes out or the infant passes out, in which case we would transition to unconscious choking.”

Wirth said unconscious choking is a modified CPR technique. You place the infant back-up on a flat, hard surface, and perform 30 chest compressions and two rescue breaths. “Thirty. Check. Breathe. Thirty. Check. Breathe,” he said.

The dangers of small magnets and batteries

“Any time there’s more gifts or toys going around and kids playing with them, we certainly see more kids coming in accidentally ingesting these things,” said Dr. Laurie Baumann, trauma surgeon at University of Utah Health and Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital.

She said while some objects may not always cause choking, they can still be extremely dangerous if swallowed.

“Small magnets can be a big problem,” Baumann said. “What we commonly see is when children ingest more than one magnet, sometimes they move forward through the intestines at different rates. Then what can happen is two different portions of the intestines can stick together. When that happens, the intestines get pinched off, and that requires an emergency surgery.”

Baumann said another major concern is button batteries.

“These are commonly seen in a lot of newer toys, and this can be a big problem because it causes burning of the throat and esophagus in children. We do have to do a surgery often to remove these and the injuries can be life-threatening.”

If you suspect your child swallowed a magnet or battery, take them to the hospital immediately, as time matters immensely in these situations.


How do I know if a toy is safe for my child?

Doctors encourage parents to do research before buying certain toys for young children. Read the warning labels to see what age they’re safe for.

If you’re not sure whether a toy could pose a choking hazard, you can try the toilet paper roll test. If the toy can pass through the roll, it’s too small for a child under 3 years old.


“I think that we all want to have a safe and fun holiday, and of course, our kids want to enjoy the toys that they’re given,” Baumann said. “All of this information doesn’t mean that they can’t play with certain toys, but it’s important to be educated about it and know what some of the risks are so we can all make the safest decision for our own families.”

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Choking hazards: how to keep your little ones safe this holiday