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Strangulation & Suffocation

Since 1990, more than 600 kids have been suffocated by plastic bags, in car trunks, in refrigerators, or as they slept. Even scarier: One child a month strangles to death on a looped window cord. Tragedies like these usually occur because parents simply aren't aware that everyday household objects can pose a serious threat to their child's safety -- and don't know what to do when an accident happens. To protect your kids from strangulation and suffocation, take precautions and review the lifesaving steps below.

It takes only a few minutes away from a parent's watchful eye for an infant or toddler to get into trouble. If you ever find your child strangling or suffocating, immediately call 911 or your local emergency number and follow these lifesaving steps:

If your child is...

  • Being strangled by a string, ribbon, or miniblind cord

    Immediately loosen whatever is around her neck to release the tension. (If she's trapped and hanging from a window-blind cord, pick her up to make the line slack.) If it's wound too tightly, quickly -- but gently -- cut it with scissors, moving your child's neck as little as possible.

  • Suffocating

    Immediately free her from the bedding or stuffed animal covering her mouth, remove the plastic bag from her head, or lift her out of the toy chest or refrigerator.
  • Caught between crib slats

    Do not yank it out. Instead, try to gently maneuver your infant's head and neck so that her oxygen supply is no longer cut off. If she isn't breathing, carefully break the slats to release her. Or use soap or lotion to lubricate her head before gently pushing it out. Try to move your infant's head as little as possible.

Next Steps

  • Without moving your child too much, place her faceup on a flat, firm surface. Gently tilt her head back with one hand and lift her chin with the other.
  • Put your ear to your child's mouth and nose, and look, listen, and feel for signs that she's breathing. Watch her chest to see whether it rises and falls. You should also check for a pulse by putting two fingers on your child's neck to the side of the Adam's apple. (For infants, feel inside the arm between the elbow and shoulder.)
  • If your child isn't breathing and has no pulse, start CPR.

For a child under 1, place your mouth over her nose and lips and give two breaths, each lasting about 1 1/2 seconds.

For a child older than 1, pinch her nose and seal your lips over her mouth. Give two slow, full breaths (1 1/2 to 2 seconds each). Continue to give one breath every three seconds until your child is breathing on her own or help arrives and takes over.

Do

  • Always put infants to bed on their back on a firm, flat mattress.
  • Make sure crib slats aren't more than 2 3/8 inches apart -- a child's head could slip through wider openings and get caught. (If you're borrowing a crib from a friend or purchasing a used crib, it's a good idea to check with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to ensure that the model hasn't been recalled.)
  • Use fitted sheets and make sure they snugly cover the mattress, especially after washing. If a sheet comes off easily when you pull at the corners or sides, don't use it.
  • Take down crib gyms and mobiles as soon as your baby can pull herself up the side of the crib into a standing position.
  • Throw out plastic shopping, trash, and dry-cleaning bags as soon as possible -- never leave them within your child's reach.
  • Remove hood cords and drawstrings from all of your child's clothing.
  • Tie up window-blind cords and long telephone cords. If blind cords have loops, it's a good idea to replace them with tassels. Check to see whether the cord dangles within a child's reach. If it does, tether it to the wall or a window jamb.
  • Move furniture, especially a crib or a child's bed, away from windows with hanging blind cords.

Don't

  • Put a baby to sleep on a waterbed, a sofa, a pillow, or another soft surface.
  • Let your baby sleep with large stuffed animals or blankets. Do remove all pillows and comforters from the crib during naptime.
  • Tie pacifiers or put other items, such as necklaces or ribbons, around a young child's neck.
  • Forget to use the safety straps that secure your child in her stroller or high chair -- she could slide down and become trapped in a leg opening.
  • Give children under 8 years of age uninflated balloons. Children can swallow them and suffocate.
  • Buy a toy chest without a safety lid.
  • Give children under 8 years of age uninflated balloons. Children can swallow them and suffocate.

Manufacturers sometimes must recall products that are defective or pose a risk to infants and children.

  • To find out if you have a product in your home that's been recalled, contact the Consumer Product Safety Commission at 800-638-2772, visit www.cpsc.gov, or write to Recall List, CPSC, Washington, D.C. 20207.
  • To order free tassels or tie-down devices for your shades or blinds, call the Window Covering Safety Council at 800-506-4636 or visit www.windowcoverings.org.
  • For a free catalog of childproofing supplies for your home, call Perfectly Safe at 800-837-5437 or the First Years Parent Service Center at 800-533-6708, or visit online at www.thefirstyears.com.