Expert advice as to how to help a choking child

Choking is really frightening and it remains one of the worst nightmares for every parent. Fortunately, fatalities from choking are rare, however it is critically important to recognise the signs and be able to help.  

Prompt and appropriate First Aid saves lives.
Babies and young children often put small objects in their mouth and prevention is key. To prevent choking: keep small objects out of reach, cut food into very small pieces (avoid circle shaped slices as these are more likely to fully block an airway) and always supervise children while they’re eating, especially if they are under five years old.

Signs of serious choking:
If your child is unable to make a sound and they are clutching their throat and struggling to breathe – you need to help them fast.

  • Be as calm as you can, as if you panic, your child will sense it and it could make things worse.

  • First see if your child can cough as they may be able to clear their airway themselves.

  • Then check in the child’s mouth to see if there is something obvious and remove it with finger tips.

NEVER put your fingers down a baby or child’s throat, or finger sweep the mouth, as this can make matters worse by pushing the obstruction further down or by causing swelling.

For a baby:  

  • Lay the baby downwards on your forearm, supporting them under their chin with your hand and using the flat of your other hand, give a firm back blow between the shoulder blades.

  • Give up to five back blows and check between each blow to see if the obstruction has cleared. If they are still unable to breathe– get an ambulance on the way         

If this hasn’t helped, lay the baby on their back, place two fingers in the centre of the chest just below the nipple line and give up to five chest thrusts. (same place as you push when doing chest compressions on a baby)

  • Check to see if the blockage has cleared between each chest thrust.

  • If baby is still choking, call 999/112 and continue alternate five back blows and five chest thrusts until emergency help arrives.

For a child over a year:

If they are unable to cough:

Bend the child forward, supporting their chest with one hand
·         with the other hand; give a firm back blow between the shoulder blades.
·         Give up to 5 back blows checking each time if the obstruction has cleared

If the back blows haven’t helped get an ambulance on the way

·          If the blockage hasn’t cleared after five blows; you need to progress to help them with is an abdominal thrust/Heimlich manoeuvre:
·         Stand behind the child and place one hand in a fist under their rib cage. Use the other hand to pull up and under in a J shaped motion to dislodge the obstruction. Perform abdominal thrusts up to 5 times, checking each time to see if the obstruction has cleared.

Anyone who has received abdominal thrusts must be seen by a doctor.

Warning: Never do abdominal thrusts on a baby under a year as you could cause damage – chest thrusts for a baby.

·         If the child is still choking, call 999 (or 112) and alternate five back blows and five abdominal thrusts until emergency help arrives. 

If at any point the baby or child becomes unconscious, start CPR immediately.

If the obstruction clears: If they seem absolutely fine – ensure they don’t have problems swallowing, check there is no pain or bleeding – it is always advisable to have them checked out by a medical professional. If it is not your child, ensure that you have contacted the parents.

It is strongly advised that you undertake an expert First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency.

Many thanks for Emma Hammett from First Aid For Life for this super useful post.