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Do You Know What to do if Your Child is Choking?

February 22, 2016

It is the nightmare scenario that can send any parent into a cold sweat: what if my child is choking and I don’t know how to help him?

Even though children under four years of age are the group most at risk of choking on food or small objects, older children can choke, too. However, there are several things every parent can do to help keep their child from choking. You can read more about that here (and about how my kid ate dog poop. twice). 

But the inconvenient truth is that we can’t protect our kids from everything, and sometimes bad things happen even in the midst of good parenting. That’s why it’s so important to be prepared in case of an emergency.

When food or a small object becomes lodged in a child’s throat, the airway can become partially or completely blocked, and the child will be unable to get oxygen into their lungs and to the rest of their body. If a child’s brain is deprived of oxygen, even for a small amount of time, it can result in permanent brain damage and even death. 

Every parent and caregiver must be equipped with the knowledge to act quickly in the event that the unthinkable happens. 

Here’s what to do if your child is choking

This may sound like an odd recommendation, but if a child is able to talk or to produce a strong cough, do nothing. Encourage them to cough, as the force of their cough will be stronger than what you can do to expel the lodged item. They may still need to receive emergency care, however, because often a partial blockage of the airway can turn into a complete blockage. 

If the child is unconscious or cannot breathe, is turning pale or blue or can only muster a weak cough, this is an emergency that requires immediate medical attention. 

First, have someone call 911 for emergency services.

The following steps will depend on your child’s age. 

For infants less than 1 year of age who are conscious:

  • Place the infant facedown on your forearm, supported by your thigh or lap (the baby’s head should be near your knees).

  • Hold the baby’s chest in your hand and hold their jaw with your fingers. 

  • Point the baby’s head downward, lower than the rest of their body.

  • Using the heel of your free hand, give up to 5 forceful blows between the infant’s shoulder blades.

  • If the object hasn’t been removed after 5 back blows, turn the baby over. Support baby’s head with your lap.

  • Place two fingers on the middle of his breastbone, just below the nipples. 

  • Give up to 5 thrusts downward, compressing the chest about halfway. 

  • Continue to alternate back blows with chest thrusts until the object is dislodged or the infant become unconscious.

  • If the infant becomes unconscious, start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). If the child is unconscious AND you can see the object in the mouth, you may try to remove the object. 

For children more than 1 year of age who are conscious:

Lean the child forward and give them up to 5 blows to the back with the heel of your hand. If this doesn’t work, perform the Heimlich maneuver:

  • Have the child stand in front of you facing away from you and wrap your arms around their waist. You may need to get on your knees.

  • Make a fist with one hand and place the thumb side of your fist just above the child’s belly button. 

  • Grab your fist with the other hand and make a quick upward and inward thrust. 

  • Check to see if the object is dislodged. 

  • Alternate the Heimlich maneuver with back blows until the object is dislodged or the child loses consciousness. 

If the child is unconscious: 

You will perform a finger sweep, slow breaths, and abdominal thrusts.

Lower the child to the floor on her back. Open her mouth while placing your thumb over her tongue and fingers around her lower jaw. This draws the tongue away from the back of the throat and may help clear the airway. If you are able to see the foreign object, remove it by sweeping your finger sideways in the child’s mouth. Be careful not to push the object further down into the airway. 

If the child hasn’t begun breathing, give two rescue breaths by holding her nose, placing your mouth over her mouth and giving two slow breaths. 

If breathing still has not resumed, give abdominal thrusts. Kneel near the child’s feet and place one hand over the abdomen halfway between the navel and ribcage. Place one hand on top of the other and press firmly but gently into the abdomen and give six to ten inward and upward thrusts. 

If a child has no pulse, begin CPR.

While this brief outline can help you become familiar with life-saving skills, it isn’t a substitute for participating in a certified first-aid course that teaches mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and CPR. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all parents and caregivers receive this training. 

If you’re interested in finding first-aid courses near you, visit the American Red Cross or the American Heart Association websites. 

If you’re interested in digital resources, see these online retailers:

Family and Friends CPR on DVD 

Online Basic Life Support certification

Online AHA