Help: My child is choking! Here’s what to do

As soon as you notice a baby or child is unable to cry, cough or talk, it’s likely something is blocking their airway. Here’s what to do.

When it comes to choking, toddlers and children are most at risk. If your child’s airway becomes partially or completely blocked, he will choke. And if he is unable to get enough oxygen into his lungs, he may lose consciousness. To restore normal breathing, the blockage must be removed.

“Being able to dislodge a blockage quickly greatly minimises the risk of further complications. However, never try to remove a foreign object unless you can actually see it, as you can run the risk of pushing it further into the airway,” says David Stanton, Head: Clinical Leadership at Netcare 911.

“Depending on their age, the child may not be able to communicate that they are choking. Therefore, as soon as you notice a baby or younger child cannot cry, cough or talk, it is likely that something is blocking their airway. They may even turn bright red or blue. It is important to keep calm and think rationally about what you will need to do to best assist the child,” he adds.

Is my child really chocking?

  • His breathing is obstructed.
  • Your child’s face may turn blue.
  • He tries to cry but is making strange noises or no sound.

What must I do if my child is choking?

Get him to cough

Encourage your child to cough, as this will help to dislodge the obstruction. If this doesn’t work, Netcare 911 suggests doing the Heimlich maneuver.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Stand or kneel behind the child.
  • Wrap your arms around them, and make a fist with one hand. Place your fist against the stomach, just above the belly button.
  • Place your other hand over your fist. Position your body up against the child.
  • Give a series of five hard forceful squeezes. You are trying to force the air out of the child in an attempt to dislodge the object.
  • Check in the mouth to see if you can see the object.  If you can see it, pull it out.

Backslaps (If the Heimlich maneuver doesn’t work)

If the obstruction is still there or he seems to be weakening, position your child with his head as low as possible and slap him sharply five times between the shoulder blades with the flat of your hand. Keep repeating Heimlich thrusts and back blows until the object is released, or check if you can see the object and pull it out. If your child is an infant and choking, lay him down with his head low along your forearm. While supporting his head, perform the five sharp slaps.

Chest thrusts

For a child, you will need to stand or kneel behind him. Make a fist and place it over the centre of his chest. Cover your fist with your other hand and give five sharp inward thrusts. If the backslaps fail to clear the blockage for a baby, turn him face up while lowering him in an upside-down position on your forearm. Place two fingers on the lower half of the breastbone and give five sharp downward thrusts. These act as artificial coughs.

Look in his mouth

Put your finger on his tongue to clear the view. (Don’t put a finger down his throat unless you can see the obstruction to hook it out).

Abdominal thrusts

If the blockage is still there, make a fist, place this below the ribcage and make five upward thrusts.

Get help

“It is essential to call for professional help if the object does not come out in the first few seconds. If at any time the baby or child becomes unresponsive, place them gently onto the floor. Begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). When giving breaths, take a moment to look in the mouth and see if you can see the object and remove it if possible. You will need to continue CPR until help arrives, ” says Stanton.

What must I do if my child has stopped breathing?

Open the airway

Lay your child down on his back on a firm surface. Place two fingers under his chin and tilt his head back.

Give ventilation

Using your finger and thumb, pinch your child’s nostrils closed. Inhale, put your mouth over his mouth, making a complete seal, and breathe out until his chest rises. Remove your mouth and watch the chest fall. Give one breath every three seconds.

Check their pulse

After one minute of ventilation, check the pulse in your child’s neck. If there is no pulse, give chest compressions – place the heel of your hand below the ribcage and press down sharply five times in three seconds. After every set of five compressions, give one breath of ventilation. Please don’t stop to check your child’s pulse unless he shows signs of reviving. Alternate five compressions in three seconds with one breath of ventilation. Repeat until your child coughs, and the object is dislodged.