When Lynn Morley planned her son's first birthday party she knew what she wanted. The Belton, Missouri, mom envisioned a small get-together with family surrounding her son Alexander as he blew out the big number one candle atop his cake. What Morley didn't plan on is her son being so enchanted with the flames that he lunged forward in his high chair to grab the candle. "I pulled it back just in time," recalls Morley. "My husband and I blew it out for him." That was three years ago. As Morley prepares for her second son's first birthday party, she doesn't plan on lighting any candles.
"What's interesting is that no one at the party—all experienced parents—thought to caution us about the candle," confides Morley. Normally vigilant parents can easily become distracted from safety issues at birthday celebrations. And these events can pose serious risks from the cake candle to the small plastic toys often found in goodie bags. The distractions add up when you have other children and parents attending the festivities too. Look over some of the top birthday hazards to make sure that your child's special day stays happy, not hazardous.
Like Morley, countless parents look forward to that first birthday cake—complete with a lit candle. Yet Dr. Angela Mickalide, director of education and outreach for the Home Safety Council, reminds parents that this is usually a child's first introduction to fire. "For this reason, a child associates fire and flames with happy times, clapping, and smiles. Good things."
Dr. Mickalide advises parents to keep matches and lighters out of baby's sight or to forego the lighted candle altogether. "You don't want to send your child the wrong message—that playing with fire is OK."
If you do use a candle, keep the cake at a distance from your child so that he can't touch the flames. Help him blow out the candle and put matches and lighters away immediately.
"There are so many food items that are considered unsafe until a child reaches the age of 4," says Dr. Christine Wood, pediatrician and author of How to Get Kids to Eat Great & Love It. She lists popular party foods such as hot dogs, grapes, hard candy, popcorn, chunks of cheese, meat, carrots, celery, taffy, dried fruits, marshmallows, and others as posing choking risks.
Dr. Wood advises some simple precautions to avoid problems. First, make sure that the children attending the party—including the birthday child—sit while eating. "Almost any food can become a choking hazard if children are running around or laughing." Second, avoid known choking foods or make sure these foods are cut into small pieces.
Choking is a serious hazard for little kids. According to a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17,537 children visited emergency rooms around the country in 2001 with nonfatal choking problems. Of those choking incidences, 60 percent were from food items, 31 percent were from nonfood items, and 9 percent were from unknown substances.
If a child does appear to be choking, either because he is unable to breathe, breathing is labored, or he's turning color, Dr. Bryan Burke, a pediatrician at the Arkansas Children's Hospital, relays the importance of parents reacting quickly. Sometimes the child is still able to breathe while the object is lodged in the airway, but if a child's breathing is blocked completely, you have only four minutes before the lack of oxygen will lead to death, says Dr. Burke.
Dr. Burke, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests parents take a CPR course and familiarize themselves with how to react in emergency situations.
Additionally, when planning the party, ask parents of party guests if their children have any food allergies so that you can avoid serving those foods or restrict the food to certain areas.