9 Steps to Save a Choking Baby

A choking baby is any parent or caregiver’s worst nightmare. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children under age four are at the greatest risk of choking, and choking is actually the leading cause of death in this age group. In the United States, a child dies every five days from choking on food. In Canada, choking is responsible for almost 40% of unintentional injuries in infants each year.

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While no one ever wants to be in the position of caring for a choking infant, familiarizing yourself with first aid for choking is vitally important because it may help save your child’s life one day.

Babies have smaller airways that are easily blocked and a tendency to explore their environment by placing objects in their mouths, both of which lead to an increased risk of choking in this age group. Additionally, many infants haven’t yet mastered the task of chewing, which increases their risk of choking on food.

What is choking?

Choking can happen when a small object, such as a piece of food that hasn’t been completely chewed or a small toy, becomes stuck in baby’s small airway. This blocks oxygen from reaching baby’s lungs and body. Without oxygen, brain damage and even death may occur—so choking is definitely serious business.

O M / Shutterstock.com

O M / Shutterstock.com

 

How to save a choking baby

While encountering a choking emergency is certainly scary, first aid for a choking infant is fortunately simple and easy to learn. There are nine steps to saving a choking baby. The steps explained on the following pages are used for babies younger than twelve months of age.

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Blend Images / Shutterstock.com

 

Step 1: Assess the situation and call 911

Does the baby appear to be gagging, but still able to breathe or cough strongly? If so, allow the child to cough on their own. A strong cough is actually better at clearing an object in the airway than any actions that you can take, but you should still call 911 and have the infant transported to the nearest emergency room for treatment.

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Check to see if baby is conscious—try shouting and tapping their foot to see if they are responsive. If baby is conscious, but is choking and it doesn’t seem like he can cough or breathe (occasional gasping is NOT breathing), call 911 and take the following steps.

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Iakov Filimonov / Shutterstock.com

 

Step 2: Use the correct position

Place baby across your forearm, face down on their tummy.  Make sure baby’s head is lower than their body.

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Step 3: Give five firm back slaps

Use the heel of your hand to give five firm back slaps between baby’s shoulder blades, while carefully supporting the head and neck with your other hand.

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Most choking emergencies can be cured by back slaps. At this point, if you see the object in baby’s mouth you can try to remove it with your fingers.  But NEVER put fingers in baby’s mouth if you don’t see the object, because this can cause it to become even more stuck in the airway.

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Photographee.eu / Shutterstock.com

 

Step 4: Give five chest compressions

If baby is still choking or can’t breathe, turn him on his back and give five chest compressions, remembering to support the head and neck.  To give a chest compression, use two fingers to push inwards and upwards on baby’s breast bone, which is about one finger’s width below the nipple line.  A good chest compression is about 1 ½ inches deep.

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Be sure to check baby’s mouth after each compression for the choking object so that you can remove it.

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systemedic / Shutterstock.com

 

Step 5: Repeat

Continue with cycles of alternating back slaps and chest compressions, until the choking object is forced out and the baby can cry and breathe, or until the baby becomes unconscious. You will need to perform CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) if baby becomes unconscious.

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Perform the following CPR steps for an unconscious infant:

Step 1: Check for breathing

Quickly check baby’s mouth and nose for choking object. Remove if possible. Next, check if baby is breathing.

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pryzmat / Shutterstock.com

 

Step 2: Give 30 chest compressions

Use the same technique we learned in step four to give baby 30 chest compressions. It is important that you give chest compressions quickly at the correct rate—aim for a rate of about 100 compressions per minute (it should take around 18 seconds to do 30 compressions).

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Jens Molin / Shutterstock.com

Jens Molin / Shutterstock.com

 

Step 3: Open the airway

Place baby on ground and kneel beside the infant. Place one hand on the forehead and gently tip back baby’s head, making sure that head and neck are in line. Use your other hand to lift baby’s chin with one finger.

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narin phapnam / Shutterstock.com

 

Step 4: Give 2 Rescue Breaths

If baby is not breathing, you can give rescue breaths—this is basically breathing for the baby. Seal your lips around baby’s mouth and nose, and fill your cheeks with air.  Blow into baby’s lungs for about one second. Check that baby’s chest is rising with each rescue breath, and allow the chest to rise and fall before giving the next rescue breath.

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pryzmat / Shutterstock.com

 

Step 5: Repeat

Continue giving baby cycles of 30 chest compressions followed by two rescue breaths until help arrives or baby starts breathing.

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Jens Molin / Shutterstock.com

Jens Molin / Shutterstock.com

 

Prevention is key.

Fortunately, most instances of choking in infants are preventable.  There are a few simple actions that families can take to prevent choking in their baby.

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Jaren Jai Wicklund / Shutterstock.com

 

Make sure that toys are safe.

Parents should check every toy to make sure that it is safe for their baby. If you notice any small or loose parts on a toy, play it safe and throw the toy away. A good rule of thumb is that toys should be large enough that they can’t become stuck in baby’s airway if accidentally swallowed (about 1 ½ inches in width and 2 ½ inches in length). Most toys are also labeled by age, and older siblings should be warned to keep small toys away from baby.

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gpointstudio / Shutterstock.com

 

Keep small objects away from baby.

Many household items can be a choking risk for baby. These include things like small batteries, change, jewelry, and bottle caps. Make sure that items like these are stored where baby can’t reach them. Parents should also make sure that baby can’t access any unsafe items that have been thrown away in the trash. Before baby crawls for the first time, check the floor for any small or unsafe items the infant may come across on their travels. Latex balloons are also a major choking hazard. It is recommended that parents with young children avoid keeping balloons in the home.

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gpointstudio / Shutterstock.com

 

Serve baby only safe foods.

Many foods can be dangerous for infants.  These include marshmallows, round candies, chunks of meat or cheese, nuts and seeds, whole grapes, popcorn, raw veggies, peanut butter, and hot dogs cut into coins.  All of these foods can easily lodge in baby’s throat and cause choking, so they are best avoided.  Talk to your pediatrician if you have any questions about safe foods for baby.

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Caregivers should also use safe food serving practices. Infants should also never be allowed to eat while laying down or crawling, and food should be cut into bite-size pieces (1/2 inch or smaller).

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Fat bird / Shutterstock.com

 

Supervise your baby.

Parents and other caregivers should keep a close eye on baby at all times, especially during mealtimes and playtime.  Little ones are curious, and that curiosity can sometimes lead to danger if caregivers are not careful.  If your child attends day care or has a baby sitter or nanny, make sure that everyone who cares for your child understands how to prevent choking and what to do if baby does choke. Make sure that your baby is always in a safe environment.

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No one ever wants to encounter a choking baby, but there are simple steps that you can take to prepare yourself if the worst happens.  It is important that parents take the time to learn first aid for choking. The Red Cross and American Heart Association, as well as many hospitals and community centers, offer free or low-cost classes on CPR for infants and children.

Parents who have young children should also make sure that their home is safe for little ones, including storing small objects out of the reach of infants, allowing children to play with safe toys only, and serving safe foods that babies are unlikely to choke on. Talk to your pediatrician if you have any questions about choking safety or prevention.

Dasha Petrenko / Shutterstock.com

Dasha Petrenko / Shutterstock.com

 

May 23, 2016