How to Save a Choking Child: First Aid Essentials for Parents
Camping First Aid and Safety

Simple Steps to Save a Choking Child

How many times have you screamed across the living room ‘DON’T PUT THAT IN YOUR MOUTH! SPIT IT OUT NOW!’ Never? Just me? I must say this at least five times a day- and probably more now that my youngest is walking.

Kids like to put everything in their mouths. Everything. Toys, food, crumbs, bugs, you name it, kids will try to eat it. Learning how to save a choking child is a skill that you need to know.

There’s no substitute for training when you need to save a choking child. If you have an opportunity, attend a CPR and First Aid class by the American Red Cross or the American Heart Association, it’s well worth it!

However, emergencies don’t wait for training. And sometimes, even if you have the training, it’s easy to forget skills unless you practice them regularly.

Signs of Choking in Children

My husband has a hard time when our children start solid foods. He is petrified of choking. I’m not sure why, but it’s one of his biggest fears. The worst part is that you want your kids to cough and gag when they’re learning how to eat solid food.

Yes. It’s scary, but it’s a learning experience for them. By coughing and gagging, they’re learning how to chew and swallow food safely. This is one of the reasons baby led weaning is becoming increasingly more popular- but that’s a topic for another day.

Signs of Choking

  • Inability to talk
  • Difficulty breathing or noisy breathing
  • Squeaky sounds when trying to breathe
  • Cough, which may either be weak or forceful
  • Skin, lips, and nails turning blue or dusky
  • Skin that is flushed then turns pale or bluish

If your child starts coughing or gagging:

  1. Stay calm but alert, monitor your child. Give them time to clear the obstruction on their own.
  2. If they STOP crying or coughing, they’re choking.
  3. Get ready to save a choking child

How to Save a Choking Child Fast

Choking in an Infant

Use this technique on a child younger than one.

  • Give 5 Back Blows
    • Lay baby face down on your arm using your hand to support their head and neck. Baby’s legs should be straddling your arm near the elbow.
    • Lean baby down at an angle. Use your legs for extra support. Baby’s head should be lower than their waist. (using gravity to help get that object OUT).
    • Use the heel of your hand and strike baby on the back between the shoulder blades 5 times.
  • Give 5 Chest Compressions
    • Make a baby sandwich with your free arm and flip bay, so they are lying face up. Keep the head cradled in your hand and the legs straddling your arm. Continue to hold the baby at a downward angle.
    • Give 5 chest compressions. Use two fingers on the breastbone right between the nipples. Push down about an inch 5 times.
  • Look in the Baby’s Mouth
    • If you see something, get it out
  • If you see nothing, keep going with back blows followed by chest compressions. Don’t do blind finger sweeps. If the object is starting to come out, a blind finger sweep could knock the object back into the throat.

Keep doing this until one of two things happens:

  1. The baby coughs up the object
  2. The baby goes unconscious

If baby goes unconscious, it is now a medical emergency. Begin infant CPR and have your partner call 911. If you are alone, continue CPR for 2 minutes THEN call 911 and resume CPR.

Choking in an Older Child

Use this technique on children older than one.

In an older child, you’re going to use abdominal thrusts (the Heimlich Maneuver) to dislodge the object.

  • Position yourself behind the child.
    • If the child is shorter than you, you may need to kneel behind them. That’s ok and will place you at an optimal angle for abdominal thrusts.
  • Tip the child slightly forward.
  • Wrap your arms around the child’s waist. Make a fist with one hand and cover it with your other hand. Place your fist slightly above the child’s bellybutton.
  • Give 6-10 abdominal thrusts. Press hard into the abdomen with a quick, upward thrust — as if trying to lift the child up.

Keep doing this until one of two things happens:

  1. The child coughs up the object
  2. The child goes unconscious

If the child goes unconscious, it is now a medical emergency. Begin CPR and have your partner call 911. If you are alone, continue CPR for 2 minutes THEN call 911 and resume CPR.

Wrapping Up

When your child starts to choke, it’s scary. Knowing what to do (and when to do it) is critical.

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