November 4, 2015


Will you know it when you see it?

Yes. Choking means that your baby is trying to get air or dislodge something that's partially obstructing his or her airway. Your baby may be choking if he or she has trouble breathing, is making unusual sounds, or is gagging, coughing, or wheezing. The skin may turn red, and he or she may lose consciousness.

What should you do if your baby starts choking?

If your baby can cough, cry, or make sounds or words and he or she appears to be breathing adequately, then the airway isn't fully blocked. Your baby will probably be able to clear the obstruction alone, and the best thing a parent can do is stay calm and be reassuring.

But if your baby is gasping for breath, turning from red to blue, looks panicked (wide eyes, open mouth), or appears unconscious, then yell for help and ask someone to call 911 immediately while you try to clear the airway:

If (and only if) you see the obstructing object, do a finger sweep to clear it. If you don't see the object, don't put your finger in your baby's mouth, as it may push the object farther back in the throat.

Hold your baby facedown over your forearm, supporting the chin in your hand. Keep your baby's head lower than the rest of the body.

Give your baby five back blows: quick, firm-but-gentle thumps with the heel of your hand between the shoulder blades – remembering that a baby's internal organs are fragile.

If your baby starts coughing, let him or her try to expel whatever is it that is being choked on rather than inserting your fingers in your baby's mouth to remove it.

If your baby doesn't cough up the item, carefully turn him or her over. Put two or three of your fingers just below an imaginary line running between your baby's nipples. Give five chest thrusts (push straight down on the chest 1/2 inch to 1 inch, then allow the ribcage to come back to its normal position).

Continue the sequence of five back blows and five chest thrusts until the object is forced out or your baby starts to cough. If your baby starts coughing, let him or her try to cough up the object.

If your baby becomes unconscious at any time, you'll need to start rescue breathing or CPR for infants. Otherwise repeat the steps above. Continue to do the best you can and get help as quickly as possible

What are good ways to prevent choking?

Give your baby age-appropriate food (mashed or strained foods and safe finger foods), supervise him or her during feedings (don't feed in a rush or in the car), and always have him or her sit upright when being fed. Don't let your baby play with small objects, toys that have small parts, or containers of baby powder. Follow the age guidelines on toys – they're based on safety, not just educational value or developmental skill. Also use caution when giving teething medication, as it could interfere with your baby's gag reflex.

Choking is one of the most common causes of death in children, so every parent and caregiver should take a class in infant CPR.

What if you suspect that your baby has swallowed something?

It's common for babies to swallow small objects (such as coins), which usually pass through the intestines without causing harm. But if you notice excessive drooling or an inability to swallow, a dramatic decrease in appetite, or if your baby indicates he or she is feeling pain where an object may be stuck, call your baby's doctor or go to the emergency room immediately.