What to do if Your Child is Choking
One of the scariest experiences for a mother, or any child’s caregiver such as a teacher or babysitter, is to realize that your child is choking. “Choking is the leading cause of death among children, especially those under age 4. It’s the number one cause of accidental death in babies under 1. For every death that occurs there are over 100 children who have non-fatal choking accidents … there were more than 17,000 children treated in emergency rooms because of chocking in 2001 according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).” (BabyCenter.com)
The Voice of Experience
As I went through the raising of my now 3.5-year-old, I experienced the frightening reality of my child choking. The only training I had in how to deal with a choking child was through a St. John’s Ambulance babysitting course, which I took when I was in high school. That was over 20 years ago. I’m constantly on the alert for my son choking. I am alert that other babies, toddlers or preschoolers might choke and someone doesn’t know what to do.
I have had to use those skills numerous times in the last three and a half years and felt it was important to pass this knowledge along to other mothers and caregivers. You don’t have to feel powerless to help your child. The skills are really quite simple. But first, let’s look at the causes of choking. (Note: For the purposes of this article, we’re looking at choking caused by something a child has swallowed, not choking or airway blockage that happens as a result of an allergic reaction.)
Causes of Choking
Infants and toddlers are particularly notorious for putting stuff in their mouths that doesn’t belong. Choking can easily happen that way. Food is the most common cause of nonfatal choking in young children. Pieces of food that are too large, foods with strings or potential strings, like celery and oranges, or foods with skins that are difficult to chew, such as an apple, are prime candidates. Not chewing the food well enough can lead to choking.
The 10 most common foods associated with choking include:
- Hot dogs cut too big or not cut at all
- Hard candy
- Peanut butter
Other foods such as uncrispy bacon, oranges, and grapefruit can also cause choking as children are unable to chew through them. Melon chunks, similar to grapes, if not cut small enough can also pose a choking hazard.
“More than 50% of choking accidents occur with food.” (BabyCenter.com)
Other choking hazards include:
- Rubber balloons
- Small toys
- Pen caps
- Push pins
- Disc batteries
- Small balls
Symptoms of Choking and First Aid Steps
Choking First Aid Step 1: Look for signs or symptoms of choking
- Sudden inability to breathe, talk, cry or cough (total blockage)
- Coughing or gagging (partial blockage)
- Inability to cough up the object
- Face starts to turn red or blue
Choking First Aid Step 2: Coughing
Coughing is the most effective way for your child to dislodge an object on his or her own.
Choking First Aid Step 3: Back blows
We’ve all seen people whack someone on the back – between the shoulder blades – when they’re coughing or trying to dislodge something that’s “gone down the wrong tube”. This is the primary technique for children and infants as well. If that doesn’t work, more action is needed.
Choking First Aid Step 4: Turn baby/toddler upside down
This method can be used until the child is too big to hold in your arms. Infants can be supported by your forearm. Older toddlers and children can be supported by your thigh. Turn them face down with the chest higher than the head, the head towards the floor or ground. Firmly strike the child between the shoulder blades with your other hand. Each back blow should be a separate and distinct attempt to dislodge the obstruction. Give five of these back blows
Choking First Aid Step 5: Chest Thrusts
If five blows between the shoulder blades didn’t work, use your thumb and fingers to hold his jaw while sandwiching him between your forearms to support his head and neck. Lower your arm that is supporting his back onto your opposite thigh, still keeping the baby’s head lower than the rest of his body.
Place the pads of two or three fingers in the center of the baby’s chest, just below an imaginary line running between his nipples. To do a chest thrust, push straight down on the chest about 1- 1/2 inches. Then allow the chest to come back to its normal position.
Do five chest thrusts. Keep your fingers in contact with the baby’s breastbone. The chest thrusts should be smooth, not jerky. (BabyCenter.com)
Choking First Aid Step 6: Abdominal Thrusts (variation of Heimlich Maneuver)
If your child is over the age of one, stand or kneel behind them and wrap your arms around the waist. Locate the belly button, then place a fist just above the navel and well below the lower tip the breastbone. Grab your fist with your other hand and give five quick, upward thrusts into the abdomen. Each thrust needs to be separate and distinct to dislodge the object (BabyCenter.com). Continue alternating between abdominal thrusts and back blows until the object comes loose or up enough for the child to cough it up.
“If you’re alone with the child, give two minutes of care, then call 911.” (BabyCenter.com)
We will look at how to prevent choking and how to perform baby/infant CPR in separate articles.
Darlene Oakley is a freelance writer for EmpowHER.com.
“How to Prevent Choking” Dana, Lisa. BabyCenter.com. Web. May 9, 2012.
First aid for choking and CPR: An illustrated guide for children 12 months and older. Babycenter.com. Web. May 9, 2012.
Infant first aid for choking and CPR: An illustrated guide. BabyCenter.com. Web. May 9, 2012.
What to Do When Your Child is Choking. Francis, Meagan. Parents.com. Web. May 9, 2012.