This topic — kids choking on food — plugs me in so much I don’t even know where to start. I watch young parents give their kids whole grapes, raw carrots, cheese squares and wonder “what happened to logic?”

Here’s why it gets me: I was such an idiot, I almost killed one of my sons because I used zero logic when it came to my most precious gifts.

When my son, Mo, was somewhere around 8-10 months old, my friends said, “It’s ok for him to have apples.”

“But he only has a couple of teeth,” I said.

“Oh, it’s ok. He’ll gum it.”

So, despite that little annoying voice in my head, I gave him a chunk of apple. Then put him in the car seat (forward facing, sitting up at least). Then drove to town.

Yeah, I know. I was an idiot. You know those memes that say, “It’s been a successful day, I kept the kids alive”? Those are literally about me.

Anyway, I happen to glance into my rearview mirror and there’s Mo, eyes wide open, mouth open, no sound, clearly choking on the f**king apple!!!

I slammed on my brakes, whipped over to the side of the road, flung open his car door… and he looked up at me and smiled and uttered some gibberish. I literally almost fainted with relief.

Turns out he was in a car seat that had a bar across his belly… when I slammed on the brakes, I inadvertently Heimliched him on the bar. I found the offending piece of apple on the floor in front of him.

I can’t describe how I felt… extreme relief and gratitude mixed with the knowledge that I was really so incredibly stupid. And inconceivably lucky.

A decade before that

… when I was 26, living in NYC with my mom, I watched her almost choke to death in our kitchen. If she hadn’t managed to cough up that piece of steak, she would have died right there in front of me. I had no clue what to do, I wasn’t even quite sure what was happening. By the time I figured it out, I doubt I could’ve gotten help there in time to save her.

A decade later

… when I was 46 and a real estate broker in Key West, I was at a realtor luncheon. I was speaking to the room about auctions and a woman at a table near me started choking. I walked off the stage, administered the Heimlich, the piece of food flew out of her mouth across the table, and I walked back up to the stage.

Yes, I actually saved someone’s life with the Heimlich maneuver. I am 5′ tall and was not working out at the time. It was still so easy to do. Just reached around her, clasped my wrist under her ribcage and jerked up. Took like 3 times. Everyone else in the room was frozen, kinda like I was with my mom. I have no clue why I wasn’t. I didn’t think, just reacted.

Be Prepared

I strongly advise learning the Heimlich which you can learn to do on YouTube. Given the following stats, it is extremely likely to come in handy!!!

Did you know that choking is the 4th leading cause of death in children under the age of 5? More than HALF of those deaths are caused by food.

In fact, on average, a child will die every 5 days in the United States from choking on food.

And kids choking on food is THE LEADING cause of death in children ages 14 and under. It’s also a leading cause of death in people over age 64.

More than 12,000 children are taken to a hospital emergency room each year for food-choking injuries, which includes permanent brain damage.

How to prevent kids choking on food

First of all, stop worrying what your BLW friends will think of you and cut the f**king grapes in half. If they are big grapes, quarter them.

The size of a kid’s trachea (windpipe) is approximately the size of a drinking straw in diameter.

The top 9 foods that cause kids to choke are hot dogs, carrots, apples, grapes, nuts, peanut butter, marshmallows, gum and hard candy, and popcorn.

Most of those foods are thought to be “kid friendly” but they are actually dangerous!!! Foods like grapes, popcorn and nuts can easily become lodged in a child’s throat or lungs. Hot dogs pose the greatest risk, as they cause more choking deaths than any other food.

“If you were to design the perfect plug for a child’s airway, you couldn’t do much better than a hot dog,” said Dr. Smith, a Professor of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. “It will wedge itself in tightly and completely block the airway, causing the child to die within minutes because of lack of oxygen.”

Grapes tend to be larger than a child’s airway and the smooth soft surface of a grape can form a tight seal in an airway. This not only blocks the airway but makes it more difficult to remove the grape without special equipment. Same with cherry tomatoes.

I know it’s fun but resist the urge to

  • teach your kids to throw food in the air and try to catch in their mouths, or
  • cut up their food into perfect circles.

I did both. Oy vey.

When someone is choking, time is of the essence

If you are going to rely on calling 911 (rather than learn CPR or the Heimlich), know where the closest emergency vehicle will come from. If it’s farther away than 6 minutes, you are in trouble.

  • 0-4 minutes: brain damage unlikely
  • 4-6 minutes: brain damage possible
  • 6-10 minutes: brain damage likely
  • 10+ minutes: probable brain death 
  • 7-12 minutes: average emergency response time

To reduce the risk of kids choking on food:

  • Do not give children younger than FIVE YO any round, firm foods unless they have been cut into very small pieces.
  • Cut hot dogs lengthwise and cut grapes into quarters. This changes the dangerous round shape that can block a child’s throat.
  • Do not give toddlers other high risk foods, such as hard candy, nuts, seeds and raw carrots.
  • Never let children walk, run, play, ride in a car or lie down while eating. Upright, sitting or standing, is safest.
  • Never leave a child unattended while eating. Never, ever.
  • ATTN BABY LED WEANERS: children should have sufficient number of teeth and the muscular and developmental ability needed to chew and swallow the foods chosen. Bear in mind that not all children will be at the same developmental level. Children with special health care needs are especially vulnerable to choking risks.
  • Children should have a calm, unhurried meal and snack time.
  • Cut foods into small pieces, removing seeds and pits. Cook or steam vegetables to soften the texture.
  • Model safe eating habits and chew food thoroughly. Kids do what you do, NOT what you say.
  • Offer plenty of liquids between mouthfuls when eating. Solids and liquids should not be swallowed at the same time.
  • Use only a small amount of peanut butter when the child is ready and use with jelly, or cream cheese on whole grain breads. Peanut butter can stick to the roof of a child’s mouth and form a glob.
  • Think of shape, size, consistency and combinations when choosing foods.

Main Foods that pose a choking hazard:

  • Hot dogs (especially cut into a coin shape), meats, sausages, and fish with bones
  • Popcorn, chips, pretzel nuggets, and snack foods
  • Candy (especially hard or sticky candy), cough drops, gum, lollipops, marshmallows, caramels, hard candies, and jelly beans
  • Whole grapes, raw vegetables, raw peas, fruits, fruits with skins, seeds, carrots, celery, and cherries
  • Dried fruits, sunflower seeds, all nuts, including peanuts
  • Peanut butter, (especially in spoonfuls or with soft white bread)
  • Ice cubes and cheese cubes
  • Foods that clump, are sticky or slippery, or dry and hard textured
  • Food size and shape, especially round or a shape that could conform to the shape and size of the trachea (windpipe). 

Here’s what prompted this post:

Last night Olivia nearly died. 
And it was my fault. 
I made her and Oscar a snack, handful of grapes and some dried cereal. 
It was the first time since hearing about that poor child who died chocking on a grape that I didn’t cut them in half. 
I figured- she’s almost 5, she isn’t the kind of kid to shovel food and choke, and I was rushing to finish cleaning the house. 
So off she went up stairs with her bowls of snack to carry on playing with her brother. I continued hoovering, luckily I’d switched it off when I heard her at the top of the stairs. I knew in an instant what had happened. I ran to her. She couldn’t breathe. 
She had gone to chew a grape and it had shot to the back of her throat, gone down and got wedged. 
I turned her over and hit her as hard as I could between the shoulder blades and still nothing. She was looking me dead in the eyes and her lips turned blue as she couldn’t 
Jamie finally managed to perform some manoeuvre on her that sent this grape pictured flying across the room. 
I lay here now watching her sleep I’ve cried most the night & my heart hurts as I look at her chest where there are still nail indentations from where she clawed at her throat for air, PLEASE PLEASE let this be a reminder to all the parents out there – my life nearly changed forever last night all because of my carelessness. 

Y’all. Just cut the grapes.

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